Monday, April 30, 2007

Labor party plans major disruption for employers

A great way to make employers reluctant to hire. Who needs jobs? There is always a kind government ready to pay you

PARENTS would have the legal right to demand flexible working hours in the first five years of their children's lives in a radical work policy unveiled by federal Labor yesterday. The policy, unashamedly pitched at the Coalition's voter heartland of working families, would also give working parents the right to up to 24 months of unpaid parental leave.

Labor leader Kevin Rudd announced a Labor government would overhaul the industrial relations system to enshrine workers' rights in law and toss out the Government's system of workplace agreements. In the rallying speech to Labor's national conference in Sydney, Mr Rudd accused Prime Minister John Howard of ditching family values by abandoning working families to exploitative bosses. He pledged that Labor would legislate to guarantee 10 employment entitlements for workers, with another 10 included in awards tailored to particular industries and occupations. The centrepiece of Labor's safety net provisions would be a guaranteed right for parents to request flexible work arrangements until their children reached school age. Employers would only be able to refuse those requests on "reasonable business grounds".

Another guaranteed right for both parents would be separate periods of up to 12 months of unpaid leave associated with the birth of a baby. But if one parent wanted to take up to two years, he or she would be legally entitled to request from their employer up to another 12 months of unpaid leave, on top of the first year. This means a couple could legally request up to 24 months of unpaid leave - but it must be taken within the first two years of the child's life.

Labor is also committed to retaining and boosting the baby bonus, now about $5000 a child, and has previously committed to pursuing a mandatory right of 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout immediately slammed the policy as being "loaded against business". She said it would add a burdensome layer of cost and compliance, and an onerous level of surveillance. She said many employers were committed to working with their employees to provide a family-friendly work place. Labor's move to legislate those approaches as legal standards would be disruptive and expensive for employers.

The other guaranteed standards a federal Labor government would introduce include:

* A working week for full-time employees of 38 hours. Workers could not be required to work ``unreasonable additional hours''.

* Four weeks' paid annual leave. Part-time workers would be entitled to four weeks pro rata, and shift workers would be guaranteed an additional paid week of leave.

* 10 days paid personal and carers' leave a year for full-time employees, plus two days' paid compassionate leave on the death or serious illness of a family member.

* Leave for community service such as emergency services and jury duty.

* Reinstatement of all public holidays, such as Christmas and Boxing Days.

* `Fair notice'' of termination, dependent on length of service, from one week to at least four weeks.

* Redundancy payments including the reinstatement of provisions for workforces with fewer than 15 employees of up to 14 weeks for 10 years of service.

* Long service leave, which would be determined with the states.

A new awards system would contain a further 10 minimum employment standards, including a minimum wage, overtime and penalty rates, leave loadings and superannuation. Mr Rudd said he would use constitutional powers to legislate national industrial relations laws, sending a message to reluctant state Labor regimes that he is prepared to fight them to take control of a central system.


Wrangle over 'white maggot'

FOOTY fans face a ban on calling umpires "white maggots". AFL Umpires Association chief Bill Deller has called for spectators who use the time-honoured sledge at any AFL match to be thrown out. The Gabba has ruled fans who yell the age-old term at Brisbane Lions' games will be evicted instantly. Mr Deller said the ban should be introduced across Australia. "It's not fun and it's not tradition. It's pathetic and I would welcome a ban on its use across the country," Mr Deller said this week.

The Gabba's surprise move is part of a zero tolerance approach to crowd behaviour at the stadium. Officials have told Brisbane Lions member Garry Edwards, 58, that fans will be evicted if they use the term. But the ban has prompted widespread anger.

Well-known Collingwood supporter Joffa Corfe described Gabba officials as "the Gestapo" and said the term should not be compared with use of foul language. And the Salvation Army has backed him. Fans at every ground in the country have used the words "white maggot" to describe umpires for generations. But Mr Deller will have none of it. "It's not affectionate. It's abuse, plain and simple, and it's bad for both the recruitment and retention of umpires," he said.

Mr Corfe disagreed. "Calling an umpire a white maggot is as Australian as having a barbecue. They'll need to start giving away Band-Aids at the gate so we can stick them over our gobs." Mr Corfe said he was evicted from the Gabba two years ago for the offence of standing up. "I've had my run-in with the Gestapo at the Gabba. A four-foot-nothing usher had me thrown out by Queensland police for standing up and supporting one of our boys in the goal square," he said. "So this doesn't surprise me, but it would be a tragedy if it spread round the country. These people are catering for the theatregoer, not the footy fan. "The problem with umpires nowadays is that they think the game is about them. It's not."

The Salvation Army is opposed to any move to make the ban national. Spokesman Major Brad Halse said: "Sometimes political correctness runs mad in this country and there is over sanitisation in a lot of areas and this is one of them. I think it's extraordinary. "The AFL should concentrate on outlawing obscene language, not a term like 'white maggot'."

A spokesman for Telstra Dome refused to comment on the issue, referring the Sunday Herald Sun to the ground's website, which includes the following: "Patrons must refrain from using foul or abusive language and from making racial or threatening remarks or gestures." Two MCG spokesmen failed to respond to several requests for comment.


Black refugees being trained for jihad

CLAIMS young Somalis are being recruited in Melbourne by terror groups are being investigated by Australia's intelligence agencies. Somalian scholar Dr Hersie Hilole said more than 20 Somalis had trained in Melbourne and returned to fight for the Islamic cause in Somalia's civil war. Two Melbourne-based Somalis have been killed fighting with Islamic militias in Africa and one of the deaths has sparked a police investigation. The investigations will focus on Melbourne's 15,000-strong Somalian population that lives mainly in housing commission complexes in Carlton, North Melbourne and Flemington.

It also has emerged that radical Islamic cleric Sheik Mohammed Omran has been preaching to local Somalian Muslims. Arabic and African Muslim communities in Melbourne generally live separate lives. But the Jordanian-born cleric regularly gives outdoor addresses to large sections of the Somalian Muslim community.

ASIO would not comment on the investigation into Melbourne's Somalian community. But a source said: "There are real security threats in Australia and this is one of them." Dr Hilole said Sheik Omran had established links with the Somalis through a radical group of Lebanese Salafists or Wahhabists. "A number of young people have either trained here or have been recruited," he said. Mogadishu-born Dr Hilole is a member of Sydney's Somalian Community Council and has been an outspoken critic of Abdurahman Osman, the president of Somali Community of Victoria. He said Mr Osman's mosque in Racecourse Rd, Flemington, was under siege by Lebanese Salafists.

Dr Hilole said Sheik Omran had created a link with the young Somalis after 18 alleged terrorists were arrested in nationwide raids in November 2005 under Operation Pendennis. Leaders at a popular North Melbourne mosque, home to about 300 African Muslims, yesterday refused to comment on alleged radicals. But a spokesman said Somalian Muslims in Melbourne's north planned to hold a meeting with police and politicians to discuss the issue. Victorian Somali Social Club president Osman Ali said local sheiks and imams urged followers not to rejoin the fight in Somalia. Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia last year to push the radical Islamic Courts movement from power.


The nuclear argument

With their usual adherence to high principle, the Left say that it is OK to mine uranium but not to use it!

Labor has attacked Prime Minister John Howard's plans for a nuclear energy industry in Australia, after its own national conference dumped a long-standing ban on new uranium mines. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd's motion to scrap the 'no new mines' policy was passed by a slender 15 votes at the ALP national conference, with environment spokesman Peter Garret among those voting to maintain the ban.

But the move was overshadowed by Mr Howard's outlining of a future nuclear energy industry for Australia. Speaking at the Victorian Liberal Party conference, Mr Howard said Australia needed to rethink its energy production in the face of climate change, and the only feasible options were clean coal technology and nuclear power. "Part of the solution must be to admit the use, in years to come, of nuclear power," he said. "If we're fair dinkum about this climate change debate we have to open our minds to the use of nuclear power."

Shortly after the Labor conference vote Mr Garrett went on the offensive against Mr Howard's nuclear proposal. "He has plans for nuclear power plants to be dotted around this country," he said. "He's taking us down a road and a path which I think is very dangerous."

Mr Howard said the Government would invest in research on the setting up of a nuclear power industry while Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said legislative barriers would be removed. And Mr Macfarlane accused Labor of debating "last century's policy" on uranium mining.

Mr Garrett says he accepts the conference vote on uranium mines but others in the party are less happy. Some are angry with union leader and Federal candidate Bill Shorten, who linked the vote to support for Mr Rudd. "If you think that rolling the leader is a great idea then go ahead and vote for the Albanese-Garrett amendment," Mr Shorten told the debate. Critics of Mr Shorten say the tactic was immature, naive and damaging.

Western Australian Premier Alan Carpenter says there will be no uranium mining in his state while he was in government. "I don't feel under any pressure whatsoever," he said. "The West Australian economy is powering ahead, we've got the highest economic growth figures and the lowest unemployment figures, we don't desperately need for economic reasons or any other reasons to pursue uranium mining."


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Islamic incitement to violence in Australia

A VIDEO posted on a hardline Islamic website to promote a soccer tournament in western Sydney has outraged Muslim leaders by featuring an Arabic song often used by al-Qaeda to promote jihad. The song calls on militants to "exterminate" non-believers and make them "hear the tunes of death". The video is used by the Global Islamic Youth Centre, headed by radical cleric Faiz Mohamad, who has praised jihadists and compared Jews to pigs.

It plays the jihad tune, which also says "we shall go to heaven fearing no death", to images of local and international soccer players displaying their skills. Bomb explosions and missiles launching form part of the music in the clip promoting the Liverpool Youth Cup. "With the swords we shall exterminate the infidels and death is the desire of the pure," one translated verse says. "With jihad the banners of the evident victory shall rise high. "We shall go to heaven fearing no death. We shall not waver ... we are the cubs of the victorious conquerors."

Senior Muslim leader Ameer Ali attacked the seemingly "hidden agenda" of the video, which was pulled down by GIYC yesterday afternoon following The Weekend Australian's inquiry. "I'm worried and I am concerned there is a hidden message behind this soccer tournament (promotion)," said the former chairman of John Howard's Muslim reference board. "This sort of message should be avoided. Why bring controversy into a sports match? Sport promotes co-operation, friendliness - that's what you expect from sport."

Prominent Sydney-based cleric Khalil Shami also condemned the video, saying it was wrong to conflate sporting images and "fighting". He attacked the fundamentalist GIYC for further damaging the Muslim community's standing in the eyes of mainstream Australia. "I don't know how they are driving this community - they drive it in a very, very bad way," said the imam at Penshurst mosque in Sydney's southwest. "It's not fair for the community. Why mix sport with the fighting? Why?"

GIYC's president, Zunaid Moosa, yesterday told The Weekend Australian that he was unaware of what the song meant because he didn't speak Arabic. He said Islamic songs were often chosen for video-clips based on their "catchy" tune, and denied having anything to do with the production of the clip. "Often a lot of anasheed (Islamic vocal music) we got no idea (about) because we are not Arabic-speaking people," he said. "It would just be more of a tempo of the beat and a catchy type tune, that's all."

A list of sponsors on the soccer clip includes charity group Human Appeal International and Krispy Kreme Donuts. A spokesman yesterday said HAI was not aware that GIYC had any political agendas when it agreed to sponsor the event. But a spokeswoman for Krispy Kreme denied the organisation had sponsored the soccer tournament and said she would take the matter up with GIYC.



By veteran Australian columnist Errol Simper -- "The Scribe"

One of the unfortunate things about the climate change debate is that to be a climate change sceptic is to become a dirty word. To be a climate change sceptic has become about the most unfashionable thing you could possibly become. Kevin Rudd all but sneers at John Howard for being a sceptic about the long-term weather forecasts. Howard, of course, vehemently rejects that he's a sceptic. Well, he would.

The word, as it relates to global warming and all the rest, has become code for fool, ignoramus, moron. This phenomenon is more than unfortunate. Many an ancient media practitioner may also find it a bit odd. You don't have to go back too many years to discover a time when scepticism was regarded as an admirable quality. For a journalist, for example, to be described as sceptical was - when the scribe started out in this caper many years ago - a compliment. To be sceptical was good. It meant you thought about things, delved below the surface, didn't rule out other possibilities. It certainly didn't mean you were uninformed, gormless or weak in the head.

Whether the media has been sceptical enough to date about climate change and concomitant alarmism is something the scribe has ruminated about since The Sydney Morning Herald appeared on green paper on Friday, March 30. The humble scribe isn't here trying to be droll at the expense of a rival journal. There's no obvious harm in a public-spirited newspaper sponsoring an "earth hour" and urging Sydneysiders to turn off their lights for 60 minutes the following day. Lots of us will have seen plenty of wanton waste and too conspicuous, greed-driven consumption. And there's nothing inherently wrong with green paper, perhaps excepting the fact you very probably have to expend extra energy to render it so.

It's fair to suggest that page 17, the opinion page, carried a particularly scintillating piece of journalism from Sydney's Lord Mayor Clover Moore. Moore began her missive with the jolly announcement: "Climate change is with us." Her article warned a few paragraphs later: "Climate change will spell the end of many familiar ways of doing things." She somehow contrived to make it sound like a wish fulfilment. What may have been missing from The Green Issue was, with respect, a dose of old-fashioned, agonising, doubt.

Maybe Moore's space should have gone to a hard-bitten sceptic. Such individuals do exist. One of the US's most experienced weather forecasters, William Gray - an emeritus professor of atmospheric science at the University of Colorado - said recently global warming during the past 30 years was due simply to fluctuations in key ocean currents. Gray, 77, believes the currents will alter course in the next decade or so and the planet will cool accordingly. Those scientists linking human activity to every bout of inclement weather are, Gray says, simply fishing for climate change study grants. He says doom-laden pronouncements are mere foolishness. And he says an inconvenient truth about Al Gore is that he's "an alarmist who doesn't know what he's talking about". For those of a sceptical nature the scribe should hasten to say he read all about Gray in a recent edition of Perth's The Sunday Times. So it must be true.

It is, of course, a debate that throws onerous responsibility on to the media. Science and environment specialists find themselves with the task of dissembling and editing copious information that may help decide the result of the forthcoming federal election and, at least according to some, the fate of our grandchildren.

The scribe might venture that few environment writers would be better credentialled for the job than this journal's Matthew Warren. Warren did a 1985 journalism cadetship at Adelaide's The News (no longer published), then switched to The Australian. He left in 1991 to study environmental economies at the University of Adelaide before undergoing a traineeship in Brussels with the European Union's environmental directorate. He became an environmental consultant, and worked for the Australian Food and Grocery Council and the mining industry before returning to journalism about six months ago. Warren, 42, is happy to be labelled a climate change sceptic. He doesn't mean he has no time for those who worry about global warming. He means it's his job "to challenge both sets of theories".

"Look, the science of this is complex, far more complex than many people seem to realise," Warren says. "There are those who'll tell you: 'The science is over and pointing unequivocally to human-induced global warming.' That's just uninformed. Science is a journey; it's always been a journey. I'm not sold on any one body of science. But I am respectful that a majority of responsible scientists is genuinely concerned. So, I suppose I'm sold on the risk. I believe when we look back on this debate in - say - 30 years' time, we'll either be incredibly grateful we had it or else we'll have to concede: 'We conned ourselves senseless."'

Another science writer with strong credentials is Peter Pockley. The founding director of the ABC's science unit, now a writer for Australasian Science magazine, Pockley finds himself sympathetic to those who are certain climate change is a reality but concedes the debate has become "polarised in a political way". He says: "Perhaps the most important thing we science journalists can do is to carefully assess the credibility and track record of those who speak out prominently on this matter. And it's not always an easy thing for us to do simply because we're not in that academic or professional swim."

The scribe? Well, the wisest among us usually keep an open mind about most things. On the other hand, the ancient scribe has seen lots of weather in his time. So he leans, just for the moment, towards the second of Warren's outcomes. We conned ourselves senseless.


Brave words, but Labor's policy offers no improvement to corrupted State education

A conservative facade hides destructive Leftism

THE exact moment it happened is hard to pinpoint, but the reality is that the Australian Labor Party, at both federal and state levels, has captured the education territory that was once the preserve of conservative governments and it now controls the debate. By scrapping former Opposition leader Mark Latham's hit list of so-called elite, private schools, endorsing parents' right to choose non-government schools, arguing for a collaborative approach to a national curriculum and, this week, placing subjects such as history and geography back on the school timetable, Kevin Rudd and the ALP have moved to the centre of the political spectrum.

As with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his mantra of education, education, education, Rudd knows that to win the support of aspirational voters in marginal seats the party has to eradicate the vestiges of its socialist past and adopt education policies based on conservative values, such as strong academic standards, parental choice and holding schools accountable for performance.

As always, though, the devil is in the detail and no amount of rhetoric can disguise the fact the ALP is beholden to key players such as the Australian Education Union, which regularly supports Labor by donating thousands of dollars during elections and organising campaigns in marginal seats in opposition to Liberal governments. If a Rudd government is elected this year, there is a danger that Australian education will continue to suffer from a dumbed down, politically correct curriculum and provider capture, where the education system, instead of meeting the needs of parents and students, is run for the benefit of the teachers unions and bureaucrats.

Take Labor's plan to develop a national curriculum. Arguing for higher standards and placing academic disciplines centre stage are beyond reproach. On reading Labor's policy paper more closely, though, it is clear the party intends to give the job of developing a national curriculum to the Curriculum Corporation and the Australian Council for Educational Research, two organisations responsible for Australia's adoption of outcomes-based education and the present parlous state of the school curriculum.

Based on Rudd's performance as a key bureaucrat during the years of the Goss government in Queensland and his first speech to parliament as Opposition Leader, it is clear that while he mouths platitudes about the importance of choice and accountability in education, he is still Comrade Rudd. Under Wayne Goss, Queensland earned a reputation for being a bastion of a new-age, cultural-left approach to curriculum. Indeed, as publicly stated by academic Ken Wiltshire, under the Goss-Rudd partnership education in the state was dumbed down, with a curriculum characterised as "weak and insipid".

In his first parliamentary speech as Opposition Leader, Rudd entered the "battle of ideas for Australia's future" by outlining his vision for the nation and the role of government and society. Once again, although the rhetoric is soothing - nobody can disagree with values such as equity, sustainability and compassion - a close reading shows that Rudd is an unreconstructed statist of the old order. Recognising the importance of a strong economy and of families as a social institution, Rudd argues that education is a public good - the same expression used by Pat Byrne, president of the Australian Education Union - and that families must be protected from the market, but commits himself to the present centralised, bureaucratic approach to education.

There is an alternative. If Labor is serious about raising standards, supporting parental choice in education and ensuring that schools are accountable, then why not embrace, as Blair has done in Britain and George W. Bush has done in the US, what are termed charter schools and vouchers? As argued by Blair, when opening schools to increased competition, there is a need "to escape the straitjacket of the traditional comprehensive school and embrace the idea of genuinely independent non-fee paying state schools. It (the British white paper's goal) is to break down the barriers to new providers, to schools associating with outside sponsors, to the ability to start and expand schools; and to give parental choice its proper place." Instead of being centrally controlled and managed, charter schools, within broad guidelines, have the freedom to hire, fire and reward better performing teachers. Control rests at the local level, in the hands of the school community or the principal, and charter schools are free to enact their own curriculum.

Vouchers represent a second way to open schools to market forces by giving more parents the financial means to choose between government and non-government schools. Unlike the present situation, where state schools are funded by government via a top-down centralised system, with vouchers, parents receive the money directly and they are free to spend it where they will.

Vouchers, especially those directed at students from under-performing schools or students who are educationally at risk because of their socio-economic background, have existed for years in countries such as the US and Chile, and the benefits are many. Research suggests that increased parental choice and competition between schools leads to higher standards, as there are strong incentives for schools to succeed in what they do. Put simply, the money follows the child and failing schools lose market share while successful schools attract more students. As parents are best placed to make decisions about their children's education, giving more parents the ability to choose between government and non-government schools is an inherent social good, and overseas research shows that vouchers and charter schools lead to increased social stability and cohesion.

On the level of rhetoric, Rudd and Opposition education spokesman Stephen Smith argue that teachers should be made more accountable, that parental choice must be supported and that the days of the Australian Education Union controlling what happens in schools are long gone. If they are true to their word, the ALP would also embrace innovations such as vouchers and charter schools. Now that would, indeed, represent an education revolution.


More downpours but still a "drought"

Australia's rainfall has always been irregular but Australian governments used to plan for that by building dams in advance of demand -- until they started to be terrorized by the "stop everything" Greens. The only drought is a drought of forethought

It may not be the end of the worst drought on record [The worst drought on record was in fact the Federation drought of over 100 years ago] but, for wide tracts of inland Australia, it was a start. A large weather system in the Indian Ocean has produced substantial rain in four southern mainland states [Australia has only six States] in the past week, raising the spirits of embattled farming communities. Although significantly short of the deluge needed to declare the drought over, areas of southern and western NSW received up to 25mm of rain in 24 hours yesterday, with similar falls in northwestern Victoria. South Australia recorded falls of up to 60mm in some areas, while a light sprinkling of moisture across southern Queensland failed to ease the escalating water crisis. The West Australian wheatbelt remained largely dry, as did the Northern Territory as it entered normal winter conditions.

The latest rain - coming just days after John Howard threatened to turn off irrigators' taps in the Murray-Darling Basin if decent falls were not recorded in the next two months - is expected to ease today. But more is predicted over southern Australia next week as a second frontal system moves over Western Australia and on into Victoria. National climate forecasters say the rain could mark the start of a predicted return to average weather conditions over southern Australia in the next three months and beyond. This could herald a $6 billion recovery in the agricultural industry, which has suffered five years of poor rainfall. "The key factor of El Nino has ended," said Blair Trewin, of the National Climate Centre at the Bureau of Meteorology, referring to the drought-causing weather phenomenon. "It could be that in six months' time, we identify late April as the beginning of the end of the drought."

Small businessman David Whitcher, near Stawell in Victoria, said yesterday's downpour was the area's first substantial rain this year. "At Christmas time, we got some good rain and everything greened up nicely for a few weeks," Mr Whitcher said. "After that, it went backwards and everything has been looking very sad and dry. Until today, we've only had about 5mm all year. But today has been great, I reckon we've had about 20mm."

The encouraging rains in South Australia and the western parts of Victoria and NSW came as the $10billion federal takeover of the Murray-Darling Basin appeared to move closer, with key concessions from the Howard Government and Victoria. Federal Environment and Water Resources Minister Malcolm Turnbull abandoned his quest to seize all powers from the states and has agreed to specify exactly what the commonwealth wants to control.

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks told The Weekend Australian yesterday that if Mr Turnbull confined his demands to the power to fix irrigation over-entitlements and deciding the overall cap on water use, Victoria could support the plan. The concessions from both sides, and productive talks between the Prime Minister and the previously hostile Victorian Farmers Federation yesterday, have substantially boosted the prospects of agreement over control of the nation's main river system.

Mr Howard said last week all water allocations for Murray-Darling irrigators would be cut to zero, in an effort to stop cities and towns running dry, without "substantial" rain in the next six to eight weeks.

Based on the weather bureau's predictions for May, June and July, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics is forecasting a 20 per cent improvement in total farm production next financial year, from $33.8 billion to $40.1billion. The timing of the current rains is crucial, offering the prospect of late growth in lower-altitude grazing country and a successful winter grains crop.

If the bureau's forecasts come true and the rains are sustained in coming weeks, they could also improve storage levels in the Murray-Darling river system, though it would take many months of heavy rainfall to return it to normal levels.

Col Thomson, a citrus grower from Mildura, on the NSW-Victoria border, said the 24mm of rain that fell on the town yesterday had come at just the right time for the community's drought-stricken farmers. "We just hope it continues. I hope this is the beginning of the break in the drought," he said. Meteorologists cautioned that the rains of this weekend would not alone break the drought. Don White, from the private consultancy Weatherwatch, said the rain would give growers optimism. But to fill dams and rivers, falls of 150mm to 200mm were needed over a month. The bureau predicts this is a likely outcome. "The odds are leaning slightly towards above normal rainfall," Mr Trewin said. "For Victoria, South Australia and NSW, we are forecasting a 50 to 55 per cent chance of above average rainfall. "In northern NSW and southern Queensland, we are predicting a 60 to 65 per cent chance above."


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Better fish dinners coming?

Fish are said to be growing bigger and faster as oceans warm but somehow that is a disaster! The global warming religion requires that there be a dark lining in every silver cloud

Researchers believe that some species of Australian fish are growing bigger, much faster, because ocean temperatures are warming up. A CSIRO study has found that increasing ocean temperatures are speeding up the growth rate of wild fish stocks by up to 30 per cent. But while fish in shallow waters are growing rapidly, species in the cooler deeper ocean are growing at a much slower rate.

Lead author Dr Ron Thresher says this will have huge implications for the long-term sustainability of the marine ecosystem. "Some species are probably going to be able to track an environmental temperature by moving up and down the coast or moving up and down in the water column so they stay in their optimal temperature range," he said. "But the fish we looked at, it doesn't look they're doing that and they're just trying to cope with the temperatures as they're changing," he said. "Sooner or later eventually they'll reach a point where they can't cope and at that stage they're going to be in real trouble."


The global-warming "drought" comes to South Australia

There's even been enough rain to make the farmers happy (and you know what a rare thing a happy farmer is) but it is STILL not enough to fill South Australia's inadequate water storages. It's government neglect, not the climate, that has caused the urban water shortages

The long dry that has pushed many of South Australia's farmers to the brink, was finally broken yesterday as a heaven-sent deluge soaked all corners of the state. Seeding has now begun throughout the state's cropping districts with the downpour set to continue until Sunday, in what farmers described as an ideal start to the season. Every district except the Far North-East had received at least 10mm of rain by 6pm yesterday. It was the first substantial rain since March 24. Cape Borda, on Kangaroo Island's north west coast, received the state's highest rainfall of 89mm. In Adelaide, 13.5mm had fallen by 6pm.

The South Australian Farmers Federation said the ideal start - and the forecast of more to come - had caused a hive of activity in paddocks from the West Coast to the South-East. Many farmers had gambled the break would come and had begun seeding in the dry soil before the rain hit. Farmers' federation president Wayne Cornish said the constant, steady rain was exactly what farmers had prayed for. "As long as they can effectively get their equipment moving in the rain, I'd bet my boots they would be out there," he said. "If we can receive several days with just what we're getting at the moment, it doesn't come in a big rush and if we can have a follow-up, that would be the ideal prescription for the start of the season."

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Matt Collopy said the rain band had moved across the state and produced rain "pretty much to plan". "Most districts would have received at least 15mm to 20mm by Friday morning, with only the Moomba basin north-east of Marree missing out," he said. "We are expecting follow up rain on Tuesday and Wednesday but that will not be as significant as this rain we had." Yesterday afternoon, another intense low pressure system was developing in the western part of the Bight, which was expected to pass southern districts late tonight and early tomorrow. "That will bring plenty of showers to southern coasts such as Lower Eyre Peninsula, Yorke Peninsula, Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills," Mr Collopy said.

The falls are not expected to help the parched River Murray, however. While the rain will move into Victoria today and up to 50mm has been forecast to fall in the upper catchments of the Murray-Darling basin on Saturday, inflows into the Murray were not expected to be significant. A Murray-Darling Basin Commission spokesman said it was "too early to tell" if the rain would have any impact. He said the ground was still dry and would quickly soak up the rain.

The rain was also expected to have a minimal effect on Adelaide's reservoir levels. Mr Cornish said any rain would have needed to be a "substantial event" to undo the damage that has been caused by the long dry spell. "Ideally (to start cropping), people are looking for at least an inch of rain in the old language (25mm), which some people have had already," he said yesterday. "We need a couple of inches to compensate for the extra dry conditions and then the crucial factor is something coming along behind it a few days after the original event." He said the rain also came just in time for stockholders who were in desperate need to grow feed for grazing.

Opposition Leader Martin Hamilton-Smith warned the Government must increase Adelaide's water supply, even if it was the break in the drought. "I am very concerned the Rann Government may use a break in the season as an excuse to abandon planning for SA's water future," he said. "If our state is to continue to grow, we have to look after the water we already have and find new sources of water, not just muddle from year to year."


Victoria too

Victoria's drought-stricken west received a long-overdue drenching overnight - and Melbourne is expected to get a similar soaking today. Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Ward Rooney said Melbourne was likely to get somewhere between 10-20mm later in the day, or overnight. "We'll get some of the rain from Adelaide but it may not be quite as heavy over Melbourne," Mr Rooney said. "Everywhere, all districts, will have some rainfall. We'll probably see the heaviest falls in the north by tomorrow morning."

Throughout the day the showers would gradually extend eastwards, providing a welcome relief to farmers across the state, he said. "It'll certainly be helpful in terms of having some effect on local dams... and replenishing the soil to some degree. It's been so dry for so long that you really need extended rainfall to turn the corner. (But) it's useful rain." Four towns in the north-west of the state received decent rainfall overnight, with Ouyen leading the way after 23mm was dumped on the town. Horsham, Nhill and Warracknabeal all received partial relief with 7mm. While it wasn't exactly a soaking, it was the best weather farmers from the three towns had seen in weeks. And unlike similar rains that have fallen intermittently in recent months, this rain is predicted to fall fairly evenly across the state.

Mr Rooney said the rain was expected to continue falling in the north-west today. "They're (farmers in north-west) likely to get some more rain today and then again overnight. "It will fall fairly universally across the state with Gippsland being the only area likely to miss out this time. "But that's not too bad because, ironically, Gippsland's been receiving a bit over the last few weeks."

The bureau's senior forecaster said it was the most promising rainfall the state had witnessed for some time. And while it he was reticent to state it would be the end of the drought, he said it was likely to have a more significant impact than previous downpours.


Immigration scrutiny in Australia

Australia has very little illegal immigration so the Feds are cracking down on abuses of legal immigration

Employers will be subject to unannounced spot checks by immigration officials and could face fines for exploiting or underpaying migrant workers in a shake-up of visa arrangements. Under reforms announced yesterday by Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, employers will also be required to ensure that overseas workers have a functional level of English. Applicants will be required to detail their English language skills and, on a targeted basis, may be required to complete an International English Language Testing System test.

The Howard Government has faced criticism for its handling of the scheme, which has grown so rapidly recently because of labour shortages that the bureaucracy could not keep up with monitoring and compliance of employers. Over the past 12 months, the union movement and the Labor Party have highlighted extreme cases of exploitation where workers have been charged exorbitant amounts for rent and other fees, paid in foreign currencies and forced to work in unskilled roles despite being highly qualified.

Mr Andrews said the changes, to take effect later this year, would reward employers who had a "strong and demonstrated record" of complying with the 457 visa program by having their applications to sponsor workers fast-tracked. Employers who underpaid workers or made them perform in unskilled jobs would face civil penalties similar to those in the Workplace Relations Act, he said. Mr Andrews said existing penalties, where employers faced being excluded from access to further foreign workers, were insufficient. The government's workplace watchdog, the Office of Workplace Services, would also be given greater powers to investigate breaches of the minimum salary level under the changes. The immigration department granted 368,333 business visitor visas in 2005-06.

Labor's immigration spokesman Tony Burke said the announcement simply put "a band-aid over a gaping wound". "The real problem remains: that the Government doesn't understand that most of the abuses have in fact been legal and continue to be legal," he said. "We saw the example not long ago of the 40 Filipino welders I visited in Brisbane last year who were being paid the minimum salary level under the visa, but this was 20 per cent below the going rate in the area. Mr Burke urged the Government to do more to stop foreign workers being exploited and said unscrupulous employers would be able to undercut local Australian wages by tens of thousands of dollars despite the changes. "You will still be able to undermine a salary through exorbitant compulsory deductions and kickbacks to rogue employers," he said. "With the new announcement, the system is better than it was but decent businesses can still face unfair competition from shonky operators who exploit foreign workers."


Bank gets sued for its careless bungling

About time someone did. Bank bungling is chronic

In A novel defamation case, Westpac is being sued for more than $2 million by an Auburn real estate agent, after the bank bounced 30 cheques written on the agency's trust account. Paul Aktas, who in 1997 had the franchise for the Century 21 agency in Auburn, claims his successful business and reputation were devastated after angry landlords had their rent cheques dishonoured in December 1997.

A jury has already found that Westpac defamed both Mr Aktas and his company, Homewise Realty, when it rejected the cheques and put the words "refer to drawer" on them. Mr Aktas said yesterday angry clients had abused him and he had had to convince his staff he had done no wrong.

He said no one could help him at Westpac, and angry and frustrated, he had rung the banking ombudsman and even the police. His barrister, Tim Hale, SC, said as well as the defamation action, Mr Aktas was suing for breach of contract and negligence.

He said that in December 1997 Mr Aktas and Century 21 were in dispute about some commissions and Century 21 had won a default judgement for $35,000. "What Century 21 did was to issue a garnishee order against [the agency] and served it on Westpac Bank, and by error the bank applied that garnishee order not only to personal accounts but to the trust account," he said. "There were a significant number of very angry customers and clients coming to the agency wanting to know had happened to the rent [the agency] had collected". The $35,000 default judgement in the local court had since been set aside, he said, and defences had been filed.

He said before the bounced cheques, the agency had about 18 per cent of the market share in Auburn, which fell substantially thereafter. He said that in order to stay in business, Mr Aktas had reduced his commission. The lost sales, and reduced commission, meant he had lost some $2 million in earnings, Mr Hale said. The court heard Westpac contends the losses were more in the order of $477,000. The defamation case has now reached the stage where a judge will decide what, if any damages should be awarded, and what defences Westpac has against the action.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Unjust attack on conservative radio host

THE quality of justice in NSW is most strange. The Appeal Court bizarrely found it necessary to disqualify Margaret Cunneen, one of the best Crown prosecutors the state had the good fortune to employ, from a gang rape case; a senior judge agreed with a Muslim defendant that - on highly specious grounds - female court staff could not handle his drinking water; and broadcaster Alan Jones has been convicted of a criminal offence for broadcasting the name of a most repellent young man of questionable age after his identity, through error, improperly appeared in The Daily Telegraph.

Jones, who has for years been Sydney's most successful morning radio host, has always been on the receiving end of crude insults from those with smaller audiences and larger egos. But it now appears the judiciary - and the wannabe judges who run the highly politicised petty authorities - are joining the fray. Notably silent have been the legions of self-anointed protectors of free speech, the civil libertarians and civil rights lawyers because Jones's audience is not theirs and his appeals to common sense and understanding of government process usually expose them as the poseurs they are.

The self-acclaimed leaders of the media, who will be out in force to tut-tut over incursions on press freedom tomorrow night at a dinner to be addressed by Jonestown author Chris Masters, have kept their mouths smugly shut. They only want freedom for their speech, not that which challenges their politically correct vision of how the world should be.

Jones was found guilty under a rarely used law designed to protect innocent young victims of crime and children involved in criminal activities. The section of the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act holds: It shall be conclusively presumed that no child who is under the age of 10 years can be guilty of an offence. That Act defines a child as a person under the age of 18. Tell that to the train drivers who had a brick thrown at the front of their train, or try convincing a victim of the mobs now ruling George St, that those responsible for bashing them cannot be guilty because they were too young.

The law against publishing is even more ridiculous, prohibiting naming individuals even when they are dead at the time of publication or broadcast. It means, as one legal eagle has said, that should the premier of NSW have a child murdered by al-Qaeda, that child's identity could not be disclosed by the press during any subsequent court action.

Jones's case involved members of a large Pakistani Muslim family, four of whom are convicted gang rapists and their late father was facing perjury charges when he died. The court heard that on April 10, 2004, a car thumping with loud music and bearing the number plate "ON DOLE" attracted some rude gestures from passengers in a taxi. The driver cut the taxi off at the next lights and at least two people got out and attacked the taxi and its occupants. One of them, who later claimed to be 14 years old, used a metal pipe. The taxi driver attempted to defend himself and struck out with a screwdriver, hitting one of the assailants, who later died.

The supposed 14-year-old was a key witness in the Crown case against the taxi driver. He had a lengthy criminal record, had used multiple aliases and many birth dates. During the trial he said he was 14 or 15 "or something like that" and at a later hearing that he was "16, 17". His father didn't know and his mother could only guess, basing that guess on her assertion her first child was born in 1978. No one knew - least of all the prosecution. Even the magistrate could only deduce the witness was born between 1988 and 1992.

Jones read The Daily Telegraph's report of the ongoing trial on air and was prosecuted by the DPP. Unfortunately, the DPP wasn't prepared and asked for continual delays running from 2006 and into this year, and all the while Jones was paying his counsel.

Even the fact the prosecution's case was based on a witness it was prosecuting for perjury didn't seem to trouble the magistrate. Nor was she concerned by his police record, the evidence that he bashed the taxi driver with a metal pipe, or that he had even bashed his own sister. Legally irrelevant to this case, perhaps, but most telling about the character of the "child" whose identity had been inadvertently revealed by Jones and The Daily Telegraph.

Deputy Chief Magistrate Helen Syme said she accepted Jones's argument that the urgency of breakfast radio meant he could not check everything that went to air. "From time to time, negligent or reckless behaviour may occur," Syme said, fining Jones $1000 and handing him a nine-month good behaviour bond - and a criminal record. Radio 2GB licensee Harbour Radio was fined $3000 and News Limited $4000. Jones is appealing the case. The transcript is worth reading. If this is the sort of justice meted out to a first offender, why should criminals have any respect for the law?


Fake medical degrees accepted by Australian health bureaucrats

Those guys sure are good at protecting the public

A scandal over purported overseas-trained doctors in a Queensland public hospital is widening after revelations that a Russian nurse used an online medical degree from the Caribbean to get a job, while a Chinese woman used documents showing she would have just turned 14 when she went to medical college in Shanghai. Evidence obtained by Chief Health Officer Jeanette Young in an investigation into the hiring of three junior doctors, or interns, at Cairns Base Hospital has appalled officials and Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson, sources told The Australian yesterday.

Queensland's anti-corruption body, the Crime and Misconduct Commission, will soon join the Health Quality and Complaints Commission and the Medical Board in a wide-ranging inquiry into why the hospital bypassed checks and balances before hiring the interns on more than $60,000 a year each. One of the three recruits could not speak English and was unable to communicate with anyone on the wards. Dr Young's investigation began after The Australian revealed, two weeks ago, serious concerns about the interns' qualifications.

Since initial claims by Cairns Base Hospital managers that the recruits were observers who had no unsupervised contact with patients, Dr Young has studied the charts of more than 500 patients and discovered that in a number of cases there were unsupervised examinations, diagnoses, orders for pathology and prescriptions. "The hospital's staff took the view that they would employ the purported doctors and, eventually, the Medical Board would get around to registering them," said a senior health source in Brisbane. "It is untenable. There will bean array of investigators descending on Cairns in the coming weeks." Mr Robertson's spokesman said: "We are concerned about the information emerging. But we can't say anything until we get Dr Young's report."

Health sources said the documentation relied on by the Russian nurse and the Chinese woman to obtain employment in Cairns made the CMC's involvement essential. CMC investigators will be given the task of tracing the documentation of the Russian nurse, whose curriculum vitae was contradictory. The nurse claimed to have received a medical degree from a university in the Caribbean. However, preliminary investigations revealed it was an internet-based qualification and should not have been recognised by Australian medical authorities. "It is a rather unusual degree in that it is an online degree with the teaching done online," a source said.

Dr Young's spokesman said: "The investigation is ongoing and is a matter of priority. The Chief Health Officer is happy to advise that the investigation thus far has uncovered no evidence of patient harm." A former colleague of the Russian nurse has communicated concerns to Queensland authorities about his conduct in a previous workplace. Several Cairns colleagues of the Chinese recruit have rallied to support her as a "person of integrity", with sufficient clinical skills to do a supervised internship prior to an examination by the Australian Medical Council. She has obtained statements from former students of the university in Shanghai who have said they were also aged 14 when they began medical training.

The controversy comes as Queensland prosecutors liaise with US counterparts to extradite Jayant Patel, the surgeon who has been blamed for contributing to at least 17 deaths at the Bundaberg Base Hospital.


Vanished history education

Tragic Leftist destruction of our remembered past

I WAS watching the ABC’s serviceable tele-movie, Curtin, about our wartime prime minister, last Sunday night in the company of a fine young Australian professional. Winston Churchill was mentioned. Churchill was the president of America, wasn’t he, this young professional asked me.

Once again I was brought up short by the astounding dereliction in the teaching of history in Australian schools. We have just witnessed the moving national commitment to Anzac Day, we have just seen several Australian soldiers wounded in Iraq. In an unrelated development the states have decided to reinstate history, geography and economics as separate subjects, abolishing the educational atrocity known as studies of society and environment.

But still we are missing the point. How can a citizen today possibly have any understanding of the shape of the world in which they live without some knowledge of Churchill? Yet unless we change the way we approach the teaching of history, such fundamental gaps in people’s knowledge will continue.

The internet generation will not be the best educated generation in history, as it has the potential to be, but the worst educated generation in a long time because it will not have been taught the most important things.

The federal Government’s national history summit last year made a contribution and identified things Australian students should know about our history. Even the so-called conservatives at that summit, however, generally favoured thematic rather than chronological and narrative approaches to history.

Yet every year when Australians demonstrate in overwhelming numbers their curiosity about Anzac Day and our military history more generally, they are not asking for sociological insights into the role of early feminism in war. Nor do they wish to hear how the demonising of “the other” served the hegemonic power structure of empire. Still less do they ask for the inter-textual ambiguities of war reporting to be decoded in considering the journalism of the power structure.

They ask a much more basic question: “What happened?” In other words, people are yearning for content, the content of the story. That is the answer to the very first question that must be provided before any other intelligent question can even be asked.

I had a disturbing dinner the other night with a history curriculum developer, a good person in every way. She told me that world history is now considered to be too big a subject for content to matter. There is too much content for any school course to cover. Therefore the emphasis is on teaching the techniques of history so that students can develop their own inquiries into history.

But the ability to think clearly and judge shrewdly, based on knowing the central facts, is likelier to come from wide reading and intelligent discussion than anything else. These days students are awarded history prizes for their original research, which normally means interviewing folks about their experience as migrants, workers, local identities or whatever. I once did such an exercise myself as a student, on the history of my local suburb.

It was one of the least interesting or useful things I did at school. And it was based on the ludicrous premise that to drive a car you need to be a mechanic. But, more important, it really has nothing to do with the study of history, which is necessary to have the minimum knowledge to navigate the world meaningfully. Is it really more important to know that my local RSL was built in 1957 or that Hitler murdered six million Jews in the greatest genocide in history? If a history teacher cannot make the study of World War II fascinating, they have no business being a history teacher.

I have three sons who in the past six years have completed high school. They all went to a good Sydney school, for which I have nothing but warm feelings, in the state that, thanks to Bob Carr, has the greatest commitment to teaching history. Yet not one of my sons made the acquaintance of John Monash or Alfred Deakin at school. As a way to treat young Australians, this constitutes a kind of criminal child abuse and neglect.

Monash was the most innovative field general of World War I and an extraordinary and compelling figure, a Gallipoli veteran, the child of German Jewish immigrants, a fluent German speaker, who came to lead all Australian forces though he was not even a professional soldier. He was by a vast distance the most important military figure Australia produced.

Deakin shaped Australia more than any other single individual. A spiritualist, a hearer of inner voices, he was a profoundly thoughtful, intellectual and complex man who, while prime minister, wrote an anonymous column for an English newspaper about Australian politics.

Both these men are richly rewarding to study because they recorded so much of their lives and thoughts and emotions in letters and journals and the like. I would think they are two of the remarkable figures of the 20th century. There should be feature films and docudramas and new interpretive histories and novels in profusion in which they figure, but instead we impose on our young people a deafening silence, a devastating absence of their heritage. The fashion has turned so comprehensively against the grand narrative and the great men approach to history that we fill the classes with trivia and nonsense.

One year I looked over one son’s shoulder and was reassured to find him studying World War I. Just what are you studying about it, I asked him. The answer? The role of women in Australian society in World War I, a legitimate enough topic but, given that there was no study of the amazing Billy Hughes or of the course of the war, this was just more of the discouraging undifferentiated pap offered as a substitute for content today.

The next year he was studying World War II. This is promising, I thought. What are you studying, I asked him: Curtin, MacArthur, Hirohito or Tojo perhaps? The answer? The role of women in Australian society in World War II.

Much of the public discussion has focused on Australian history and that is entirely as it should be. But there are things we have to know about the history of the wider world, especially 20th-century history. Without this irreducible core of content, no student can possibly understand the shape of the world in which they find themselves. This content must include World War I, the Depression, World War II, Nazism, communism, the Cold War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. There is much else that it is desirable to know but this is an absolute bare minimum. We have a UN, a refugee convention, a US alliance system, to take obvious examples, directly because of World War II.

Without studying World War II - and not only the role of women in Australian society in World War II - no student can possibly make any sense of these institutions. Without a narrative history full of content, meaningful citizenship or even mere functioning cultural literacy is history.


Another railway boondoggle coming up?

Do they ever learn? The Alice Springs to Darwin railway was a huge waste of taxpayer funds and will never give a return on funds spent. It will need many more millions of taxpayer money to build this next one. Railways are obsolete anyway. Converting all railways to dedicated truck corridors would do a lot more good

AN inland rail line linking Victoria and Queensland would cut truck numbers on highways, reduce freight costs and boost rural communities - and looks set for government funding. A multimillion-dollar grant is expected to be unveiled soon to kick-start efforts to attract private sector funding for the $3.1 billion project. It is understood Prime Minister John Howard discussed it with premiers at the recent Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra.

The rail line's potential to reduce the number of trucks on national highways amid spiralling freight loads, and its positive impact on rural communities, are the driving forces behind the Government's support. Australian Transport and Energy Corridor chairman Everald Compton said it could be built by 2012. "In these days when climate change is a big issue, trains make a lot of sense," he said.

The likely route for the standard-gauge rail line from Melbourne is through Albury, Junee, Parkes, Dubbo, Moree and Warwick before linking with Toowoomba. The ATEC has asked the Government for a $150 million grant for the track between Moree and Toowoomba, and another $150 million for a final link between Toowoomba and Gladstone.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nasty numbers for the Left

KEVIN RUDD may be the most popular Opposition leader in the 35-year history of opinion polling in this country, but yesterday's inflation report shows that John Howard's luck has not deserted him. With consumer prices rising a scant 0.1 per cent in the first three months of the year, annualised inflation was 2.4 per cent, within the Reserve Bank's mandated maximum of 3 per cent. And the more important measure, underlying inflation, which takes out volatile short-term movements, rose by 0.5 per cent or an annualised 2.7 per cent, confirming that inflationary pressures are easing. This means the Reserve Bank is unlikely to raise interest rates in the months ahead. How unlikely? The futures market yesterday put the chance of a rate rise next month at just 3 per cent.

This, in turn, gives John Howard green lights as far as the eye can see down the politico-economic highway leading to this year's election. First, it gives the Government a green light to hand out tax cuts in next month's budget. If the Reserve Bank's governor, Glenn Stevens, had his finger hovering over the red button marked "rates up" Howard and Peter Costello would be accused of economic recklessness for handing out big tax cuts. Tax cuts, by fuelling spending, can increase inflationary pressures and prompt the bank to lift rates. That risk has now fallen away. If the Government had any hesitation, it has been removed by the inflation report.

Second, Howard has a green light for other spending measures as he campaigns for re-election, without bringing down upon the Government's head the accusation of irresponsibility. The outlook is sufficiently benign that Costello felt emboldened to forecast the next published annualised inflation rate would have a one in front of it, not a two.

Finally, the inflation figures give Howard the green light to go to the election with one of his most vital political credentials - as a better economic manager than Kevin Rudd - intact. On the face of it, it is extraordinary. Howard promised at the last election to keep rates "at record lows". As soon as he was re-elected, the Reserve Bank raised rates four times.

Yet somehow polling continues to show Howard well ahead of Rudd on who can better manage the economy. And with no further rate rises in prospect between here and the election, his grip on that title now seems unshakeable.


Melbourne's trains -- what the Greenies are wishing on us all

The frequent complaints about woeful service from Sydney and Brisbane trains are similar. The Melbourne service is provided by a private contractor. The Brisbane and Sydney services are directly run by their State governments

COMMUTERS using some of Melbourne's busiest inner and middle-suburban stations are being left behind on platforms because of overcrowding on the rail system. Hot spots across the network include West Footscray, Yarraville, Kensington, Prahran, Glenhuntly, Armadale and Hawksburn stations. A Connex spokeswoman said it received complaints from squashed and stranded passengers and said most of the problems were caused by late or cancelled services. But the Public Transport Users Association and Connex drivers told The Age that increasing numbers of passengers were being left at busy inner-suburban stations. The State Government's decision to scrap Zone 3 has also increased passengers travelling from outer-suburban stations.

Metlink chief executive Bernie Carolan said anecdotal evidence showed car parks at former Zone 3 stations were almost full. "Those car parks are more popular than ever," Mr Carolan said. Metlink has also seen a rise in tickets being sold at former Zone 3 stations. Almost 170 million trips were made on the suburban network last year - an increase of 13 per cent.

While more passengers from Melbourne's outer suburbs use public transport, commuters in the middle and inner suburbs are feeling the squeeze. Department of Infrastructure figures show the Cranbourne, Pakenham, Sydenham and Broadmeadows lines suffer the worst levels of overcrowding. Pressure on inner-city stations such as Kensington on the Broadmeadows services will increase after the opening of the electrification extension to Craigieburn later this year.

A Connex driver said it was common for trains during the evening peak to wait up to four minutes for passengers to squeeze on at City Loop stations such as Melbourne Central and Parliament. "It's great to see all these people using trains but the services are just inadequate," he said. "It's just getting ridiculous. There are some trains that they could virtually cancel and put them elsewhere. They've still got the same old tired timetable. Let's review the lines and see where people are living."

But as the operator of the system, Connex cannot purchase new trains and make changes to timetables or increase services without Government approval. The Department of Infrastructure's train plan from 2003, obtained by The Age, showed at least 60 new trains needed to be purchased to cope with increased patronage from 2009. PTUA president Daniel Bowen said the lack of planning by the Government for new trains "was bordering on incompetence".

His comments came after Public Transport Minister Lynne Kosky confirmed that the Government had paid $100,000 for nine Hitachi carriages that were initially sold off in 2002 for $2600 each. "They should also be making better use of the existing fleet, ensuring that frequent services run beyond the current peak hours, to help spread passenger numbers," Mr Bowen said. "The people of Melbourne have spoken with their feet and they want more trains."

Ms Kosky defended the purchase and said the second-hand trains would allow for four extra services a day, capable of transporting another 3200 passengers. She would not be drawn on whether the Government would fund new trains in next week's state budget. Opposition public transport spokesman Terry Mulder said it was an appalling lack of planning and said passengers should not be surprised to find themselves soon travelling on steam engines.


When dogma trumps reason in Australia's Left

Uranium debate shows Labor can still defeat itself

LABOR frontbencher Anthony Albanese has got it all wrong in his analysis of why the party can afford to do the wrong thing and maintain its discredited and illogical no-new-mines uranium policy. Mr Albanese has said it was beyond belief to argue that marginal-seat voters who supported John Howard at recent elections would say, "Gee, I'll change my vote to Labor if only they change their policy on no new uranium mines". Perhaps not. But what many will say is that without uranium in the equation, Labor still favours symbolism over substance and therefore lacks credibility when it comes to dealing with climate change. Furthermore, an illogical attitude to retard an expanding industry in which Australia enjoys a natural advantage does nothing for Labor's economic credibility. For these reasons, uranium mining is a totemic issue, and how Labor handles it says a lot about whether the party is ready for office.

Realistically, inflammatory debates about uranium mining and industrial relations are part of the theatre of the ALP national conference. Fighting over uranium is a good way for the party to put a bit of skin back on the shins of environmental pin-up boy Peter Garrett, who has been forced to endure a series of uncomfortable public compromises such as support for clean coal and continued Tasmanian logging. For the ALP, it is important everyone's point of view is heard. What is most important, however, is that the authority of Labor's new leader, Kevin Rudd, shines through. Having made the point that the no-new-mines policy is a done deal, Mr Rudd can ill afford the public humiliation of a close vote, let alone defeat.

In prosecuting the anti-uranium case, Mr Albanese has employed clever rhetoric such as the claim that the ALP's Light on the Hill was not the product of radiation, and that you can guarantee uranium mining will lead to nuclear waste, but you can't guarantee it won't lead to nuclear weapons. He is, however, simplistic in dealing with the realities. Mr Albanese cites Iran's nuclear program as an example of proliferation, but he ignores the fact that Iran has abundant reserves of uranium of its own. No-one disagrees that the uranium trade must be accompanied by robust rules to ensure the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, but the reality is that Australia already mines and exports uranium.

The most pressing contradiction in the stance taken by Mr Albanese, however, is that Labor wants to talk tough on climate change but rejects what is globally acknowledged as a key response, namely nuclear energy. The Howard Government has cleverly ramped up the politics of uranium to expose Labor's weakness. Mr Rudd must realise that if Labor wants to be taken at face value over its concern about greenhouse gas emissions, the party needs to demonstrate it is serious about solutions. Without support for uranium there is a fundamental flaw in Labor's position on climate change. The Government knows this, and while Mr Rudd will rule Australia out of the nuclear fuel cycle to appease the Left, the Prime Minister has highlighted climate change response as the most important economic dilemma of the next decade.

The irony is that those who have campaigned hardest for a European-style solution embodied in the Kyoto Protocol and mandatory targets are most likely to have overlooked the fact that Europe, notably France, has made the biggest commitment to nuclear power. This contradiction again highlights the problems that arise when dogma replaces reason on issues such as nuclear power and climate change. From a scientific perspective, the question is would the world be better off if, instead of coal, China's booming demand for electricity were satisfied by nuclear power? The answer is an unequivocal yes.


Rain still falling - but in the wrong place

Or is it the dams that are in the wrong place?

The rain continues to fall heavily in Sydney's coastal and eastern suburbs, as the Bureau of Meteorology confirms rainfall is significantly higher than usual for the month of April [Oh what a lovely "drought"! It's raining in Brisbane too as I write this]. April, the third wettest month in the year after March and June, has an average rainfall of 125.7 millimetres over 31 days. But over 174 millimetres has fallen this April, with more expected in the final six days of the month. Unfortunately much of the rainfall has been in eastern and coastal suburbs, with significant rainfalls staying frustratingly away from catchment areas in the west.

Over the last 23 hours across the state the highest falls were recorded in Bellambi, north of Wollongong, with 99 millimetres falling at their weather station. Eighty five millimetres fell at Williamtown, near Newcastle and 76 millimetres was recorded at Gosford. In the Sydney basin the highest falls - 76 millimetres - were recorded in the Royal National Park in Sydney's south, closely followed by Frenchs Forest with 72 millimetres and the small catchment area of Woronora Dam, which recorded 70 millimetres. The rain is expected to ease off this afternoon, according to the Bureau, though will continue to shower intermittently until Sunday, when it is predicted to be fine.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Australia's day of remembrance for our war dead: Australia's most solemn day. Commemoration began at dawn, as it traditionally does. A small excerpt from a news report below:

Thousands of people have braved a wet morning around the nation to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country at the Anzac Day dawn service. Masses assembled at the Cenotaph at Martin Place in Sydney just before 4.30am (AEST) for the ceremony to mark the ill-fated landing at Gallipoli 92 years ago. War veterans were in attendance, but the early morning crowd was a predominantly young one.

Naval Commander of Australia, Rear Admiral Davyd Thomas, said the Anzac story resonated with so many Australians because it was about ordinary people. .. "The wonderful thing about the Anzac story is that it's not a story that glorifies war. "It's a story about ordinary people struggling to overcome their fears and frailties but achieving extraordinary things."

He urged the crowd to direct their thoughts to the approximately 3500 Australian servicemen and women deployed in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Israel, Lebanon, East Timor and the Solomon Islands. "The Anzac tradition continues through them," he said. "Many of them were in harm's way this morning. Their service is still selfless, the mateship is as deep, the teamwork just as vital."

The early morning crowd stretched over three blocks and spilled into nearby streets, while a large screen was used to broadcast events at the Cenotaph for those who couldn't get close enough.... At 4.50am (AEST), a lone bugler sounded the last post. It was followed by a minute's silence during which the only sound that could be heard was the pattering of falling rain.

More here

I cannot resist noting that the "drought" was yet again in evidence

Labor emission target 'crazy' - PM

LABOR is promising to slash greenhouse emissions without knowing the impact of those cuts on jobs, Prime Minister John Howard says. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has committed a Labor government to reducing Australia's emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, while the Greens want an 80 per cent cut over the same period. Mr Howard said it was irresponsible to commit to greenhouse targets without knowing the full economic effect of such actions.

Mr Rudd and Greens leader Bob Brown were "peas in a pod on this issue", he said. "You've got this ridiculous situation where the Greens are advocating an 80 per cent cut by 2050, the Labor Party is only slightly less radical at 60 per cent by 2050," Mr Howard told ABC radio. "Neither the Greens or the Labor Party has any idea of what that will do to jobs. "I think it is crazy and irresponsible of any political party in this country to commit to a target when you don't know the impact of the target."

Mr Howard said Mr Rudd had borrowed his 60 per cent target from European nations, ignoring the different circumstances Australia faced. "This is not Europe. This is Australia, and I am not going to subcontract the climate change policy of this country to the European Union," he said. "European circumstances are different. Europe is not a major exporter of coal. "The people of Queensland, particularly in the coal industry, should understand that the alternative prime minister of this country has committed to a target and he doesn't know the impact of the implementation of that target on jobs in the coal industry (and) jobs in many other parts of Australia."

In a speech yesterday, Mr Howard said global warming was not the overwhelming moral challenge facing Australia, and argued that economic growth should take precedence over emissions cuts. Today, Mr Howard said the government would not commit to an emissions reduction target until he knew the effect it would have on the economy. A business and government taskforce examining emissions trading would consider the potential impacts, he said.


Police use ethnic labels: Horrors!

NSW police use the description "Middle Eastern" too frequently in media releases, skewing the perception of crime rates and contributing to racial tensions, a report says. The service constantly ignores its policy on the use of ethnic descriptions and has even issued releases referring to suspects wearing balaclavas as being of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern appearance, the report by the Australia Middle East Christian Council found.

The report said up to two-thirds of the police media releases that mentioned ethnicity referred to suspects of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern appearance. This was a disproportionate use, said Peter El Khouri, a member of the council and former Liberal Party candidate. "There is a perception that the Middle Eastern community, Australians of Middle Eastern background, are significantly responsible for crime in the state," said Mr El Khouri, who is of Lebanese descent.

The council said NSW police should use the national standards, adopted in 1993 by other police forces, which use four terms to describe appearance in public communications about crimes: Aboriginal, Asian, Caucasian and other. NSW police expand "other" into four groups: Mediterranean or Middle Eastern, Indian or Pakistani, Pacific Islander and South American.

The council also wants police units such as the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad to drop the ethnic reference in their title. Mr El Khouri said the "use and abuse of the policy on ethnic descriptors" could have contributed to racial unrest leading up to the Cronulla riots of December 2005. "Why are we not conforming to the national guidelines?" he asked. "We have not seen a riot or similar ethnic tension to the Cronulla riots in other states that conform to the guidelines."

The Minister for Police said police would retain the descriptions. "Their use does not suggest a link between ethnicity and crime, but is merely a quick and generally efficient way of identifying people who the police need to locate - be they suspects, possible victims or witnesses," said a spokesman for the Police Minister, David Campbell. Police denied that the use of ethnic descriptors increased racial tension or was in any way discriminatory or inflammatory.

The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has found no statistical link between ethnicity and crime, the report says. NSW prison population figures quoted in the report show 139 of the state's 8961 prisoners last June were born in Lebanon - a lower percentage than those born in Vietnam, China, Britain, Ireland or New Zealand. [Probably because their Muslim code of silence makes them hard to catch]


Basic subjects return to schools

The catch-all subject Studies of Society and Environment will be dropped in the nation's high schools and replaced by the traditional disciplines of history, geography and economics under a schools action plan to be released by the states and territories today. A report on the future of schooling prepared for the Council for the Australian Federation, comprising the Labor state and territory governments, outlines a 12-point plan for the implementation of a national framework for school education.

The plan, agreed to by all state and territory governments, commits them to refocus SOSE in response to criticism that the subject has become too crowded by areas such as environmental and legal studies at the expense of history and geography. "Studies of Society and Environment has been criticised by a number of commentators, partly because its focus is not clear from the label," the report says. "It has become increasingly clear that what should be studied under this label, are the disciplines of history, geography and economics." The report explicitly outlines those disciplines under the umbrella of humanities and social science as part of the plan to develop a national curriculum.

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks, who will release the report today, said the report advocated a return to traditional disciplines to ensure a well-rounded education. "It reflects our belief that there are key disciplines that are best taught within the school curriculum," Mr Bracks said. The governments will also introduce three benchmark levels for reporting students' literacy and numeracy results in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9, under a new national test to start next year. The present system under which students are reported only as passing very low, minimum standards - giving no indication of the breadth of student performance - will be replaced by three levels of minimum, medium and high achievement.

The plan also commits the states and territories to developing a plan for reporting school performance, with a focus on how much it has improved its students' results, and processes for reviewing teachers' performance based on "improved student, classroom and/or school performance".

The release of the plan follows a meeting of the nation's education ministers in Darwin last week, where the states and territories rejected the federal Government's blueprint for national curriculums, performance-based pay for teachers and the reporting of national test results. School curriculums are designed by the states and territories, hampering the federal Government's efforts to impose its will in this area.

Mr Bracks said education heads from around the nation would meet this week to start the implementation of the plan, which invites the federal Government to participate as part of a "collaborative federalism".

The COAF report, The Future of Schooling in Australia, reaffirms the primacy of literacy and numeracy in primary schools and the "fundamentally important" disciplines of English, maths, science and languages other than English for high school students. It also notes the importance of physical education, the arts and technology and identifies two areas to be added to school curriculums - civics and citizenship, and business. "The study of business and the development of commercial and financial literacy skills can assist students in their middle and later years at school to prepare for work in the 21st century," it says.


Rain lashes coast, but the "drought" is still on

There is always a drought somewhere in Australia -- but plenty of rainfall in other parts too -- which shows the need for advance planning -- exactly what governments claim to be good at. But since dam provision has been taken out of the hands of the engineers and put in the hands of Green-shy politicians, practically no new dams have been built

RAIN continued to deluge parts of the east coast yesterday but farmers beyond the ranges again missed out and have little prospect of heavy falls in the near future. As storms lashed Sydney on Sunday night and yesterday, a key weather indicator predicted another dry winter.

The Southern Oscillation Index had been rising towards neutral territory, a sign that drought is weakening, but in recent weeks it has plunged dramatically and it reached a five-month low yesterday of -13.1. Consistent negative readings indicate the likelihood of below-average rainfall, while positive values suggest more rainfall could be on the way.

Storms in Sydney on Sunday night dumped 98mm at Rose Bay, in the eastern suburbs, in just three hours. Rose Bay had another 9.6mm to 3pm yesterday.

The best fall along the Murray-Darling to 9am yesterday was 10mm at Cherrabah, on the NSW-Queensland border. Long-range rainfall forecasts hold only a slight hope that enough rain will fall in the Murray-Darling Basin to prevent the cutting of irrigation allocations next month.

A three-month outlook from the Bureau of Meteorology carries slender prospects of better-than-average falls. John Howard warned last week that "if it doesn't rain in sufficient volume over the next six to eight weeks" initial irrigation allocations in the basin would not be made.

The bureau's latest seasonal outlook, published yesterday, predicts a wetter-than-average three months to the end of July for the upper Darling catchment. But only just. It said there was a 55 per cent to 65 per cent chance of better-than-average rain in the north, northeast, central west and southeast of NSW and southern inland and coastal southeastern Queensland.

National Climate Centre meteorologist Blair Trewin said: "This is the drier time of the year there so above-average rain doesn't necessarily point to particularly large falls. If 2007 is as bad as 2006 for inflows there will be no allocations but that's a fairly unlikely scenario." Dr Trewin said expected lower-than-normal daytime temperatures would help to keep evaporation low.

In southern Queensland, all of NSW and Tasmania, and the eastern half of South Australia, there is a 55 per cent to 60 per cent chance of cooler-than-normal days. Chances of cooler days in Victoria run to 65 per cent. The Queensland Department of Primary Industries also predicts rainfall in the upper Darling catchment might exceed the average up to the end of June.

It predicts a 60 per cent chance of wetter-than-normal conditions. But along the Murray, there was only a 30 per cent to 40 per cent chance of more rain than normal.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

In Australia, the LEFTISTS want to deregulate!

Which they have historically done to some degree -- but they still want heavy regulation of employment conditions, which is very destructive to jobs. Have a look at France if you doubt that

While most media attention focused on Rudd's compromise industrial relations policy, much of the speech was in fact dedicated to stealing the Liberal equivalent of Labor's battlers, in this case business and independent contractors. Rudd's primary appeal to this traditional Liberal constituency was a commitment to cut red tape. While this might sound platitudinous, like everything Rudd does these days his pitch was firmly rooted in promoting the idea that it is now Labor, not the Coalition, that is better equipped to manage the economy.

How do we know this? Because today Craig Emerson, Rudd's handpicked spokesman on small business and independent contractors, will release a detailed research paper that formed a large part of the economic underpinning of the Opposition Leader's speech. It's an impressive piece of work that seeks to draw a compelling link between what Emerson depicts as Australia's declining productivity and the over-regulation of business. In sentiments reflected in Rudd's presentation, Emerson goes out of his way to reclaim the economic reform legacy of the Hawke-Keating years, something Mark Latham manifestly failed to do.

"The incoming Labor government in 1983 inherited a heavily regulated economy from decades of largely uninterrupted Coalition rule and began the task of deregulating and opening up the economy to competition," Emerson says. "During the last 11 years of Coalition rule, and despite all the reviews, promises and commitments to cut red tape, business has again become shackled by overbearing regulation. As it was back in the early 1980s, so it is now that the task of reducing business regulation as an essential component of a program to lift national productivity will fall to an incoming federal Labor government."

Emerson cites official figures showing that between 2000 and 2006 Australian productivity growth slumped from what he calls "the miracle rate of 2.6 per cent per annum during the 1990s" to 2.1 per cent. "As the governor of the Reserve Bank has pointed out," Emerson says, "labour productivity growth since the end of 2003 has averaged just 1.0 per cent per annum. The governor cautioned that this is a fairly short period over which to be drawing a trend, but nevertheless observed: 'That is quite a slowdown."' To grasp the governor's meaning, consider the following: If Australia's labour productivity growth rate over the 40-year projection period of the Treasury's Intergenerational Report was a percentage point faster than the assumed rate of 1per cent, Australia's national income would be 20 per cent greater by the end of the period.

So, productivity counts. And don't just take Emerson's word for it. Here's the Business Council of Australia on the issue: "More worryingly, labour productivity growth has slowed sharply in Australia. This deterioration in productivity performance is a very real concern." It's one of a number of BCA warnings Emerson sprinkles throughout his paper. Emerson is making a political as well as economic point here: when it comes to the link between productivity and cutting red tape, the BCA is a potential ally of the Labor Party.

Emerson produces figures to show that Australian labour productivity reached 89.4 per cent of US levels in 1998, only to fall to 81.7 per cent in 2006, back to where it was in 1989. But there's a conundrum here that is often used to explain away the chances of the Howard Government being defeated at the next election. Despite falling productivity, the economy is still booming.

Emerson explains it this way: "Australia ranks 16th in the world in labour productivity levels but eighth in prosperity as measured by (gross domestic product) per person. "If today's productivity growth is tomorrow's prosperity, why hasn't Australia slipped down the prosperity rankings? The answer is that during the past decade Australia has experienced not one but two booms: a productivity boom up to 2000, followed by a mining boom. "The boost in our incomes has been estimated at $55 billion every year, equivalent to around $8000 for every Australian household. Australia's mining boom has masked the economic effects of Australia's productivity slump," Emerson says. Again he turns to the BCA: "The benefits that rising commodity prices have provided to the economy, to an extent, have also masked underlying structural weaknesses. "Add to these challenges the impact of an ageing population and slower productivity growth as the benefits of past reforms fade and many conclude that slower growth in the future is inevitable for Australia," the BCA concludes.

Emerson and the BCA have a shared view on one of the ways this productivity slump can be addressed: a concerted assault on business regulation. "In the seven years from 2000 to 2006, the commonwealth passed the same volume of primary legislation as had been passed in the first 82 years of Federation," Emerson says. "And this doesn't include all of the regulations that are made as subordinate legislation, the volume of which has increased more than five-fold since the 1960s."

Again, the BCA is in sync with Labor: "The creeping re-regulation of business and the introduction of policies that are inconsistent and overlapping across jurisdictions are additional examples of how the benefits of past reform can be quietly eroded over time."

So there we have it. On the question of regulation, Labor and the BCA are on a unity ticket. Or at least that's the way Emerson would like to see it. The final balance as to where business comes to rest in terms of election support will, of course, be overwhelmingly influenced by Rudd's final position on industrial relations. The brutal truth is that the kind of constituency the BCA represents wasn't much interested in Rudd's small business and unfair dismissal announcements of Tuesday. What it wants to know is his intentions regarding Australian Workplace Agreements.


"KEEP 'EM IN THE DARK" argue Nazi-type "scientists"

Airing the views of climate change sceptics in the media may only be serving to keep the global warming controversy boiling, argue scientists. Leading climate change experts have warned the World Conference of Science Journalists in Melbourne, Australia, that a balanced view does not always reflect the consensus of the research community.

Kevin Hennessy, a lead scientist with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said yesterday that media attention on "the view of a handful of climate change sceptics" amplifies their opinions and "implies that there is little agreement about the basic facts of global warming". Hennessy is also with the marine and atmospheric division of Australian government research body, CSIRO. Speaking in a session about climate change reporting, he said editors and journalists have a duty to ensure that facts are presented in context. Balanced reporting, he said, "perpetuates the public's perception that scientists are in disarray, which is misleading in the case of climate change".

Geoff Love, secretary of the IPCC and former deputy director of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, said that IPCC assessment reports from 1990 through to this year are strong evidence of "the coming together of the scientific community." Emphasis on the sceptic view does not help public understanding of climate change, said Love.

Media coverage has not always reflected the consensus of the majority of the scientific community, said Ian Lowe, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation a non-profit environment group. "That only makes the public and political discussion more difficult," he said.

The problem is compounded by a lack of reporting on climate change, according to Chris Mooney, a U.S.-based science journalist attending the conference. Although the 2006 hurricane season attracted a lot of media attention, Mooney presented statistics from the United States showing that climate change has never been a priority in the media.

The situation is similar in Africa, said Ochieng' Ogodoa a Kenyan correspondent for London, U.K.-based news web site SciDev.Net. Articles about deaths caused by floods or other natural disasters, and political scandals related to climate change tend to get precedence, he said.


I liked the advertisement shown alongside the above article in its original source. I reproduce it below. It is a pic of an INCANDESCENT globe, not one of the fluorescent wonders! The Greenies don't win 'em all!

Some patients get no treatment at all in Tasmanian public hospitals

ONE in seven patients leaves the stretched Royal Hobart Hospital emergency department before being treated because of long waits. Between December and March, 13,058 patients presented to the department but 1821 -- an average 15 a day -- did not to wait to see a doctor. Some of the patients had been assessed as suffering "life-threatening" or "potentially life-threatening" illnesses or injuries and severe pain.

But department director Tony Lawler said the "majority" were patients who had presented to triage with "potentially serious" or "less urgent" conditions. He said there was always a "concern" that patients who did not wait would die, but stressed they were encouraged to stay or given options for medical help. "We don't put people in the waiting room and forget them," Dr Lawler said. "We try to maintain supervision." [Hard to do when they have walked out!]

RHH chief executive Craig White said the "did not wait" figures were steadily climbing but the hospital was working hard to bring them down. The figures come as the emergency department -- which moved into its new $15.4 million home last month -- comes under increasing pressure and criticism. In the past month, nurses, patients, politicians and ambulance officers have complained of long waits for medical help. Ambulances have been "ramping" or building up at the department, unable to offload patients because the hospital is full. And an elderly woman died in the emergency department last month after four days trying to get help and hours in waiting rooms.

Dr Lawler said patients were prioritised on clinical need, sometimes causing frustration. "Sometimes a patient might not appear to be very ill," he said. "It sometimes seems there's an inequitable process about who is seen first." He said some patients felt better and left or decided to see their GP, but conceded some patients who left were rated category one, two and three.

Dr White said waits had increased because more patients were presenting to emergency and beds in wards were harder to access. He said access block was "complex" but recent nursing-home closures meant aged-care patients were taking up 16 beds. Access block figures from the second half of 2006 show 29 per cent of patients admitted through the RHH emergency department wait more than eight hours for a ward bed. This compares with a 27.4 per cent national average.

Dr Lawler said the hospital had started holding daily bed management meetings to free up beds and new systems would help ease the wait. The new emergency department allows patients to be "streamed" through three paths and there is a clinic dedicated to patients in the lowest categories. This means a patient needing stitches can be "in and out" without having to wait for a cubicle. A short-stay unit will open in July for patients who require observation but don't need to be admitted. Dr Lawler said this area would act as a "pressure valve" to the department and reduce waits.

He could not compare the RHH "did not wait" figures to other hospitals but Australian Nursing Federation state secretary Neroli Ellis said they seemed "high". She attributed the figures to the closure of 1B North, a 30-bed ward closed for six months for renovations that only began last month. Ms Ellis said up to 16 patients stayed in the emergency department overnight on trolleys waiting for a bed.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Now it's cool to be carbon neutral

It's fashionable to take highly visible action on greenhouse, says environment writer Matthew Warren

The public debate on climate change is fracturing. Abstract and global v tactile and personal. Kyoto v the Toyota Prius. Climate change is the motivation for international agreements and global frameworks, but in the gap between awareness and substantial action has blossomed a new retail and commercial fashion. Carbon is the new black.

If it weren't for television, many of us wouldn't know what a power station looked like. But we are now part of an alarming and earnest UN-scale debate on intergenerational changes in energy generation, on the morality of China building a new coal-fired power station every week while millions sit in the dark in India and Africa waiting for theirs.

The essence of climate change is a debate over how to deliver against colossal targets to cut invisible gases by staggering quantities over decades. It leads to talk of fantastic plans to capture and store billions of tonnes of liquid carbon dioxide kilometres under the ground, or of solar power plants kilometres wide and long, new global stock markets buying and selling carbon credits, whatever they are, and the lure of fortunes to be made by the clever, offset by the threat of broadacre misery for the seemingly inevitable losers.

Last year public awareness on climate change lit in Australia. Nearly a year on and the concern is turning into impatience. In this temporary hiatus between populism and policy, there is a boom in households and businesses that want to make statements about their concern. In a vacuum of real market and policy signals we are happy to invent our own urban myths. Fortunes are being made selling the fashion of climate change.

Hybrid petrol-electric cars are on the rise in Australian cities, with sales more than doubling in the past year driven mainly by fleet buyers, although they still represent less than 0.5 per cent of total new car sales. The Prius hybrid engine car has been a big hit for Toyota since its reintroduction in 2003. It outsells the rival Honda Civic hybrid by a ratio of about two to one, even though the Honda is $3000 cheaper.

But, then, the Honda looks just like a Civic. The Prius's unusual styling sets it apart from other cars on the market and tells the world that the owner has paid about $10,000 extra for the cachet of driving with environmental impunity. Honda Australia spokesman Mark Higgins says the Prius's sales strength is in business and government fleets, where brand recognition on the environment is on the rise. "One of the major reasons people buy the hybrid Civic is that people want to do their bit for the environment, they want low emissions, low fuel consumption, and they don't want it to stand out from the crowd," he says.

British supermarket chain Tesco has signalled it is thinking of introducing food miles labelling on all the products it sells as a response to climate change. The idea is that food that has been imported thousands of kilometres will have made a much greater contribution to greenhouse gas emissions than locally produced foods. The scientific basis for this claim is much less certain. The full life cycle of foods includes primary production, preparation, packaging, retailing and disposal. Preliminary research by Australia's food processing industry in 2003 suggests transport is among the lowest contributor to greenhouse.

Incorporating the full cost of greenhouse into energy prices would be the simplest way of demystifying this claim. But why wait? At an international conference of science journalists, Roger Short from the University of Melbourne called for an end to cremation to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Instead he suggested everyone be buried upright in a cardboard cylinder beside their favourite species of tree. During cremation the average male body produces more than 50kg of carbon dioxide as it is heated to 850C for 1 1/2 hours. It's about the same level of emissions as a dozen cars attending the funeral. Should they be banned, too?

Solar panels and hot water systems are the Prius of household energy systems: modern, energy saving, expensive and highly visible. Rooftop solar panels to augment domestic electricity consumption start at about $12,000 a house; solar hot-water systems cost about $3000 but have a much better payback period. Most state governments have introduced hefty rebates for their installation: the Greens think they should be mandatory and Labor leader Kevin Rudd has promised to increase the subsidy for household solar panels.

But a study by McKinsey&Co on the technology pathway to reduce greenhouse gases has identified the first, and cheapest, solution is neither of these pricey options. It is insulation. About 2.5 million homes in Australia are still not insulated, most of these rental dwellings. Insulation is a relatively cheap and simple change that could cut 27 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Insulation Council president Dennis D'Arcy says the problem with insulation is that it is too cheap and simple. "Insulation is very cheap compared (with) these other solutions and it has been around a long time. There's nothing new or bright and shiny about it," he tells Inquirer. "Gizmos are visible and are very obvious signs that you are doing something. That seems to excite people a little more and they seem to excite governments. If you insulate a suburb of houses, who knows you've done it?"

In the present market of high visibility on climate change action, companies, the AFL and even newspapers are declaring themselves carbon neutral, although energy experts and academics are concerned the market is moving too far ahead of the regulations needed to police it. And there are signs some buyers may not understand what they are buying.

Carbon markets consultant Cheryl Bowler from Energetics says the term carbon neutral should be based on a full life-cycle assessment of a company's or household's operation, but in some cases it is being interpreted selectively. "It's probably more a case that (the term) is being used naively because people aren't aware of what their carbon footprint is: they calculate just their energy-related emissions , but they can be leaving out a large proportion of what they are responsible for," she says.

The fast-moving retail greenhouse market has already experienced problems with claims about the definition of green and renewable power. Regulators had to tighten key rules and definitions in the national greenpower accreditation scheme after it was found some retailers were exploiting loopholes to sell zero-cost green energy to householders from sources such as the Snowy hydro scheme.

Since the start of this year retailers have been required to source a minimum of 10 per cent accredited greenpower from new generators to stimulate investment in low-emission energy sources. "The language becomes a little murky for a general consumer to determine the difference between renewable power or clean power or renewable energy," Deloitte energy expert Lorraine Stephenson says. "If you are getting offered something for nothing and it relates to new renewable energy, then you have to be a little suspicious."

Associate professor in energy systems at the University of NSW Hugh Outhred is concerned about the validity of credits generated by schemes such as NSW's greenhouse gas scheme GGAS, which continues to generate credits for demand management and efficiency gains in electricity generation as emissions continue to increase. "In NSW we have this implausible situation where each year we get a report on how well the scheme is going and yet in the fine print emissions continue to increase," he says.


`Marrying' Rajneeshis breaching Australian immigration laws

The Immigration Department of Australia is investigating a number of Aussie followers of the Indian guru Bhagwan Rajneesh for alleged sham marriages. A commune of the disciples of the controversial Indian guru, also known as Osho, at the scenic beach town of Byron Bay has attracted Australian authorities' gaze for breaching immigration laws.

A New South Wales resident had claimed in a recent newspaper article that several members of the Rajneeshite sect, known as `Sanyassins', have been intermarrying just to get Australian permanent residence. David Honeycombe of Bangalow had made the claim in his article in The Australian spurring the department of immigration and citizenship into investigating the small community.

According to the news article, most of the 2000-strong Sanyassin community members living in Byron Bay town region were born overseas. The list includes all the five directors of the Mullumbimby-based Sanyassin-owned company Melaleuca Properties. Three of the eight directors of another Rajneeshite commune Osho Mevlana Foundation, according to the newspaper article are also foreigners. Now all the Sanyassins are under the immigration investigation thanks to the media attention drawn by Honeycombe's startling claim.

He is reported to have contacted a Byron Bay police officer after hearing guests at a Sanyassin marriage joke about flouting Australian immigration laws by marrying fellow Rajneesh disciples. "The attitude of the police was that they weren't the slightest bit interested," David Honeycombe was quoted as saying by The Australian.

"They seemed to be more interested in not upsetting the locals," he added. Federal immigration Minister Kevin Andrews had reportedly said that allegations of sham marriages were viewed "very seriously" by the government.

"The department will undertake an immediate investigation to determine if there are any irregularities in the Byron Bay area," the Minister's spokeswoman said in a statement. "Anyone with information should contact the department of immigration and citizenship."


Philistines of relativism at the gates

Universities should provide access to the best art and literature, write John Hookham and Gary MacLennan

A TIME comes when you have to say: "Enough!", when you can no longer put up with the misanthropic and amoral trash produced under the rubric of postmodernist, post-structuralist thought. The last straw, the defining moment, came for us when we attended a recent PhD confirmation at the Queensland University of Technology, where we teach. Candidate Michael Noonan's thesis title was Laughing at the Disabled: Creating comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains. The thesis abstract explained that "Laughing at the Disabled is an exploration of authorship and exploitation in disability comedy, the culmination of which will be the creation and production (for sale) of a six-part comedy series featuring two intellectually disabled personalities.

"The show, entitled (Craig and William): Downunder Mystery Tour, will be aimed squarely at the mainstream masses; its aim to confront, offend and entertain." (Editor's note: the subjects' names have been changed to protect their privacy.) Noonan went on to affirm that his thesis was guided by post-structuralist theory, which in our view entails moral relativism. He then showed video clips in which he had set up scenarios placing the intellectually disabled subjects in situations they did not devise and in which they could appear only as inept. Thus, the disabled Craig and William were sent to a pub out west to ask the locals about the mystery of the min-min lights.

In the tradition of reality television, the locals were not informed that Craig and William were disabled. But the candidate assured us some did "get it", it being the joke that these two men could not possibly understand the content of the interviews they were conducting. This, the candidate seemed to think, was incredibly funny.

Presumably he also thought it was amusing to give them an oversized and comically shaped pencil that made it difficult for them to write down answers to the questions they were meant to ask. The young men were also instructed to ask the locals about whether there were any girls in the town as they were looking for romance. This produced a scene wherein a drunk Aboriginal woman amorously mauled William.

Capping off this reality show format, the candidate asked Craig and William on camera what they would do if a girl fancied both of them. When William, a sufferer of Asperger's syndrome, twitched and was unable to answer, the university audience broke into laughter. Then Craig replied: "We would share her." This, it seems, was also funny for the university audience. They had clearly "got it".

It's worth noting that William's condition may make it difficult for him to understand the subtexts of social interaction. AS sufferers struggle to read facial expressions and body language and are often unable to predict what to expect of others or what others may expect of them. This leads to social awkwardness and inappropriate behaviour. Hilarious, huh?

Much was made at the seminar of the potential for all humour to offend and of the ancient nature of the tradition of mocking the disabled. But the purpose of humour is not just cruelty. The butt of a joke usually has some undeserved claim to dignity and the funny incident takes him or her down a peg.

Humour undermines the rich and powerful, and it can be politically subversive. But we don't think it's funny to mock and ridicule two intellectually disabled boys. We think we, and the university, have a duty of care to those who are less fortunate than us.

At the seminar we were told there was a thin line between laughing at and laughing with. There is no such thin line. There is an absolute difference that anyone who has been laughed at knows. We must admit with great reluctance that at the seminar we were alone in our criticism of the project. For us, it was a moment of great shame and a burning testimony to the power of post-structuralist thought to corrupt.

It is not our intention here to demolish the work of Noonan, an aspiring young academic and filmmaker. After all, ultimate responsibility for this research rests with the candidate's supervisory team, which included associate professor Alan McKee, the faculty ethics committee, which apparently gave his project total approval, and the expert panel, which confirmed his candidacy.

To understand how we have got into this dreadful situation, one need go no further than reading the series of interviews with some of the great figures of popular culture published in the journal Americana. These interviews are remarkable in that they all follow a similar narrative: the young professors who burn with a passion for popular culture take up a position at a university where they come up against the dragon of high culture. They risk life and career to slay the dragon by publishing articles on popular cultural phenomena such as TV soap operas. This, then, is the story of the heroic age of cultural studies, when teachers of cultural studies forced the academy and the schools to broaden their horizons.

As academics who have published articles on The Simpsons and Deadwood, we warm to these tales of derring-do. However, it is vital that one recognise that the heroic age of cultural studies is long past. The dragon of high-culture elitism has been well and truly slain.

What holds centre stage is not a critique of how popular culture provides - in the words of scholar George Lipsitz - the "links that connect the nation, the citizen subject, sexuality, desire and consumption". What we have instead is the reality that cultural studies is in the grip of a powerful movement that we call the radical philistine push. It is this same movement that has seen the collapse of English studies and the consequent production of graduates who have only the scantiest acquaintance with our literary heritage. It is also undermining the moral fabric of the university.

Let us be clear: we are not blaming students. In our line of fire are the academics who have led the assault against notions of aesthetic and moral quality in cultural studies. This has taken the form of a direct attack on those who do not celebrate every offering that comes out of the maw of corporate culture. We are all supposed to wave our rear ends and become cheerleaders for rubbish such as Big Brother and Wife Swap. Lest the reader think we exaggerate, let us turn to the views of McKee, the enfant terrible of the post-structuralist radical philistines within the creative industries faculty at QUT.

In the university newspaper, Inside QUT, he was reported as saying: "Teaching school students that Shakespeare is more worthy than reality television is actively evil" (italics added) and in his "ideal world programs such as Big Brother would be at the centre of thecurriculum". In a similar vein, John Hartley, Federation fellow and the founding dean of the faculty, has claimed there are similarities between Big Brother and Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew in that both explore issues of marriageability. Of course there are similarities; almost all stories deal with the quest to find a mate. But, in any comparison between Shakespeare and Big Brother, what counts are the differences, not the similarities. In Shakespeare we can point to, at the very least, the complex and sophisticated way in which the text is shaped, formed and structured. Every aspect has been deliberately crafted so that no feature is superfluous.

But by elevating Big Brother to the level of Shakespeare, the radical philistines have taken the high culture v low culture distinction and inverted it. Low culture is the tops and anyone who so much as refers to high culture becomes the enemy and is subjected to the politics of abuse and exclusion. This is what has led us to Craig and William: Downunder Mystery Tour.

And now, when we say that in civilised society it is repugnant to mock the disabled, most academics in our field appear to disagree with us. When we say it is morally wrong to laugh at the afflicted, our colleagues seem indifferent to the truth of this statement. Presumably for them it is just our "narrative". They can take this position because in the postmodern world there are no theories, no knowledge and no truth; there are only narratives, fictional stories, all told with bias.

Yet we and almost everyone outside of the cultural studies ghetto reject this moral and epistemological relativism. If we are to take meaningful political action, if we are to act morally, if we are to teach our students how to live, how to act in an ethical fashion and how to make progressive and powerful art, then we need to be able to determine what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false.

Is there an alternative to the moral relativism, the schlock aesthetics and the dumbing down of the postmodernists? Yes, but to transcend the position staked out by the new philistines would require a commitment to aesthetic and moral education. The aesthetic component would once again undertake the task of cultivating and improving aesthetic taste and judgment. That means providing access to the best that has been written, painted, said and filmed. This aspect of the curriculum would necessarily be anti-relativist.

There are dangers and difficulties here, but the present situation is one where educational institutions are beset with wilful ignorance and culturally the ruling slogan appears to be "the grosser the better". This is nothing less than an offence to the human spirit.


Wanna bet this destructive knowall is a Leftist?

There's no such thing as right and wrong you know and we see here that he was a "root cause" believer and a believer in not being judgmental

A Sydney doctor who conducted a bizarre experiment on up to 800 patients by offering them unlimited access to prescription drugs has been banned from working in medicine. Dr Steven Goodman used his patients as "guinea pigs" in a dangerous and unfounded treatment program, the NSW Medical Tribunal ruled this month. He was found guilty of "abhorrent" professional misconduct and struck off the medical register.

The GP and two colleagues, who studied together at Sydney University, followed an ultra-liberal drug treatment theory that transformed a "normal suburban general practice" in Redfern into a drug den, where all 800 patients were addicts. At least two patients, including a 16-year-old girl, died while under Dr Goodman's care at Redfern Street Medical Centre.

The approach was based on addressing addicts' behaviour and inner-feelings, rather than restricting drugs, in a bid to develop a trusting relationship. He frequently prescribed "massive" doses of highly addictive sedatives, including Valium, Temazepam, codeine and the anti-depressant Zoloft. One patient received 75 pills on an almost daily prescription, accumulating to 6400 pills over four months. When approached by The Sunday Telegraph at his Sydney home last week, Dr Goodman refused to comment.

Before her death, his 16-year-old patient had confided she felt suicidal after becoming homeless and addicted to drugs. She asked for his help with detoxification. Instead, he prescribed her with a steady cocktail of powerful sedatives, including Valium and Temazepam. There was no evidence that he offered any counselling, specialist referrals or warnings on the effects of the drugs she was taking, the tribunal found. "The 'best efforts' of (Dr Goodman) was to prescribe large amounts of drugs to a young girl who had told him that she thought about killing herself," the tribunal's report stated. The girl's body was found in a boarding house bedroom, surrounded by empty packets of prescription drugs and methadone.

In a similar fate, the other woman patient had told of suicidal thoughts before dying from an overdose. Dr Goodman's notes reveal she was "in tears, (saying) my life's not worth anything". But he continued to prescribe huge doses of drugs. A further 28 patient examples were included in the case lodged against Dr Goodman by the Health Care Complaints Commission - but he admitted even more of his 600 to 800 patients had been prescribed drugs to the same level.

Dr Goodman was defending his drug treatment theory as late as October last year, according to the tribunal. "We decided we were the experts," he said. "We decided we knew better." Dr Goodman left the Redfern centre in 1999 and worked at the Chullora Medical Centre and Majors Bay Medical Centre.


Sunday, April 22, 2007


Though anybody who knows of their absurd "600,000 Iraqi deaths" claim will not be surprised. The BMJ has also of course long been known for its frantic Leftism. This politicization does of course explain the very low intellectual standards in both journals that I have repeatedly noted on FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC. With their openly avowed contempt for the truth ("There is no such thing as right and wrong") and their failure to consider ALL the facts of most matters, Leftists corrupt everything they touch

A leading international medical journal has denounced the Prime Minister and urged its Australian readers to vote against him in the election. In an editorial titled "Australia: the politics of fear and neglect", The Lancet said John Howard had jeopardised Australia's enviable reputation in medical science with his suggested ban on HIV-positive migrants. It also censured the Health Minister, Tony Abbott, for saying those who spoke up for indigenous health were "simply establishing politically and morally correct credentials", and criticised the Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, for his stance on climate change. It said Australian politicians were scoring below par on health.

The journal said Australian clinical and health research was "an emblem of excellence" in the Asia-Pacific: "That enviable position is being put at risk by Prime Minister John Howard's indifference to the academic medical community and his profound intolerance to those less secure than himself and his administration."

The latest example was his comment last week that HIV migrants should not be allowed, says the journal, whose editor, Dr Richard Horton, spoke at a conference on global health in Sydney this month. "To any visitor, Australian culture feels progressive and inclusive," The Lancet says. "This attractive exterior belies a strong undercurrent of political conservatism, which Howard is ruthlessly tapping into." The Lancet has a significant readership throughout the world and regularly takes a stand on key medical issues.


Conservative climate skepticism in South Australia

A SOUTH Australian Liberal senator has signalled a hardline policy on tackling climate change by dismissing man-made pollution as a cause of global warming. In an essay urging scepticism on global warming published on the AdelaideNow website, Senator Cory Bernardi argues science is being distorted and manipulated to present a one-sided view to the public. Senator Bernardi is a confidant of Finance Minister Nick Minchin and Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and his views are likely to have considerable support at senior levels of the Federal Government. It is understood his essay is intended to signal future government policy aimed at prudent measures on climate change, rather than drastic action.

"I have come to believe we're seeing a distortion of a whole area of science that is being manipulated to present a certain point of view to the global public, that is that the actions of man are the cause of climate change," he writes. ". . . I have examined both sides of this debate and, when the alarmist statements are discounted, the scientific evidence that remains does not support the scenario that is being presented to us. The facts do not fit the theory."

His views are a direct contradiction of a wide body of scientific research, most notably the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's "very high confidence" that human activities have contributed to global warming. Australia Institute executive director Clive Hamilton, writing in The Advertiser Review liftout, argues the Government's greenhouse policy has been determined for a decade by "a cabal of powerful fossil-fuel lobbyists" whose commercial interests would be harmed by cuts in carbon emissions. But Senator Bernardi says the existence of climate change itself is not contested - arguing Earth's climate "has continually evolved and changed". He says it is the extent of man's contribution that is in doubt.

"The more you read into this situation, the more the claims that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are responsible for our warming climate do not add up," he says. "However, to deny man's contribution is to risk the wrath of those looking for a set of circumstances to suit their own agendas. "This is of great significance, since governments of the world are facing intense political pressure to act immediately to reduce human carbon emissions."

Prime Minister John Howard has declared himself a "climate change realist" and is expected to introduce a national emissions trading scheme after receiving a report on the issue by the end of next month.

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd in Washington yesterday urged the U.S. to ratify the Kyoto protocol, saying climate change was the great moral, environmental and economic challenge facing the world. "On this question, our respective national positions are compromised by our refusal so far to ratify the Kyoto protocol," Mr Rudd said.

Senator Bernardi challenges scientific consensus on man-made carbon emissions causing global warming, saying "there is equally enough evidence to the contrary" and even "scientists on the IPCC concede there is room for doubt". He argues that "populist sentiment" is being exploited politically, particularly "by those that have strong anti-Western and anti-industrialisation agendas". "This populist pressure to immediately reduce carbon emissions, based on increasingly disputed extreme scenarios and without consideration of the true cost to our prosperity should really make us question the wisdom of changes such as those proposed by federal and state Labor," Senator Bernardi says. Labor proposes cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent of 2000 levels by 2050 and introducing a national emissions trading scheme by the end of 2010. "As of yet, Labor has neglected to provide any details as to how they will achieve this emissions cut . . . although one thing we know for sure is that nuclear energy is ruled out," Senator Bernardi says.

The Federal Government is urging consideration of nuclear energy as a low-emission alternative for electricity generation. Dr Hamilton argues "there is compelling evidence" that the Government has both quarantined Australia from global efforts to tackle climate change and "actively set out to sabotage the Kyoto protocol".


Double jeopardy: It is only sensible that the law keep pace with technology

IN the grand tradition of English law, a person convicted of a crime has the right to appeal against their conviction. It's a one-sided game, because the prosecution does not enjoy the same right. For more than 800 years, a principle known as "double jeopardy" has applied. It means that a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime, even when fresh, compelling evidence emerges. It is time to balance the ledger.

Advances in technology, particularly DNA technology, mean that many so-called cold cases are now being solved as new evidence becomes available. It is common sense that if powerful evidence of guilt exists, it should be put before a court. Of course, there must be limits. New trials should not be ordered simply because a witnesses decided to change their story, or because police failed to properly gather all available evidence. There must be some certainty. It would be intolerable for a person to be tried and re-tried for the same offence. This is why double jeopardy laws were enacted, to stop a person from being subjected to repeated or vexatious prosecution by the state.

The Council of Australian Governments, which this week agreed to reform the double jeopardy principle, has come up with a good compromise. The principle would remain but exceptions would be made where there is fresh, compelling evidence, such as new DNA evidence. Exceptions to double jeopardy would apply only in the most serious criminaloffences such as murder, manslaughter, aggravated rape and armed robbery.

The Director of Public Prosecutions' consent would be required and there would have to be a good reason why the evidence was not presented at the original trial. The NSW Government was the first to abolish the double jeopardy principle, saying there should be retrials of serious cases carrying a sentence of 20 years or more if fresh evidence emerged. The reform needs to be extended across the nation, so that criminals cannot move out of NSW. The public has indicated a desire for change. One case in particular comes to mind: Greg Domaszewicz, was acquitted of Jaidyn Leskie's murder or manslaughter in 1998. An inquest later found Mr Domaszewicz had contributed to the toddler's death and thrown his body in a dam. For 800 years, lawyers have lived by the maxim: it is better that 10 guilty men go free than one innocent person is convicted. Yes, but if new evidence is found, justice must have every chance to take its course.


A deeply corrupt State public hospital system

Two contradictory pieces of advice about cancer treatment for Maryanne Smith* led Maryanne and her husband, Michael*, to question a doctor's competence. In the beginning, all they wanted was a straight answer. But as the Sydney South West Area Health Service obfuscated and the shutters came down on a bureaucracy used to getting its own way, it turned into so much more.

Almost 2« years after their initial complaint, Maryanne Smith is gravely ill and only one thing is clear: NSW has learnt little from the bitter and heartbreaking patient safety scandal at Camden and Campbelltown hospitals. A Herald investigation has found that the internal inquiry into the Smiths' complaints against Concord Hospital was conducted with little regard for fairness, key doctors were not interviewed and the results were heavily censored. A specialist who supported the Smiths was investigated in an attempt to silence him and the doctor alleged to have given the contradictory advice continues to practise.

The dispute shines a light into the often murky dealings of the state's health system. It leads along a trail of relentless and expensive legal action against doctors and through a complaints handling system that in some hospitals still seeks to silence rather than openly discuss problems. In this world, there is no resolution for anyone: not patients, and not doctors or other health professionals.

There are an estimated 8000 deaths in Australia each year as a result of medical errors, more than the annual road toll of about 1600. Hidden beneath innocuous labels such as "complications", "misadventure" and "sequela", these deaths and injuries have become an accepted part of health care, experts argue. "Harm caused by health care ranges from the mundane to the catastrophic, from a small skin tear on the arm of a frail, elderly patient being helped into bed, to quadraplegia or death," say Merrilyn Walton and colleagues Bill Runciman and Alan Merry, the authors of the recently released Safety and Ethics in Healthcare. "These problems were, for many years, viewed as part of the price to be paid for the great benefits of modern health care."

Walton, an associate professor of medical ethics at the University of Sydney who was NSW's first health care complaints commissioner, is incensed that governments have not moved faster to prevent the rising toll of serious harm and deaths from medical errors. "I am talking about system errors that are getting repeated and repeated - at some stage the governments in this country are going to have to be brave and deal with this," she says. "We have acknowledged there are a high number of adverse events, but we haven't gone the step further . that means confronting some hierarchies around the design of the system to force change."

In addition, violations of basic standards of care are tolerated daily, she warns. "Routine violations happen, for instance, around handwashing . a system that tolerates routine violations is a dysfunctional system and yet it happens regularly in every hospital because there are no consequences."

The authors say that 10 per cent of admissions to acute hospitals are associated with an adverse event. In NSW, where government figures put the annual admission rate to acute care hospitals at 1.3 million a year, that means up to 130,000 patients are being harmed or experience near misses each year.

The Smiths are waiting to hear whether the Independent Commission Against Corruption will investigate their concerns. The director-general of NSW Health, Robyn Kruk, referred the case to the watchdog just weeks before last month's state election. Since then, there has been a familiar refrain from bureaucrats and politicians: "I cannot comment on a matter that is before ICAC."

The poor advice Maryanne Smith received may not have been a medical error that resulted in death, but even small mistakes can lead to prolonged suffering, delayed treatment, more pain and unnecessary confusion.

NSW Health is fighting a war on several fronts, some official, others under the radar. Camouflaged in carefully written policies and the weasel words of bureaucratise, the state's health officials and the revolving door of ministers have sought to convince a sceptical public the NSW health system is safe. After surviving the horror years of multiple investigations into 19 patient deaths at Camden and Campbelltown hospitals, two other state-run hospitals have been called to the NSW Coroner's Court this month to explain themselves. The court is separately investigating the deaths 18-year-old Jehan Nassif, who died from meningococcal disease at Bankstown hospital last year, and Vanessa Anderson, 16, who died at Royal North Shore Hospital in November 2005, three days after being admitted for a head injury. She was treated by overtired and junior staff, after the hospital had been warned about a potential staffing crisis.

The inadequacies of our mental health system were also laid bare this week with the news that in 2001 a teenager was discharged from a psychiatric unit without treatment or medication after a suicide attempt, and then became a quadriplegic after another suicide attempt days later. He is suing the Sydney South West Area Health Service for negligence.

Add to that a steady stream of specialists leaving the public health system citing flagrant breaches of patient safety as a factor and one thing becomes abundantly clear: it is only a very thin veneer of safety and accountability that cloaks our public hospitals.

Maryanne Smith had a slow-growing tumour and was referred to a doctor then on staff at Concord Hospital in June 2003. She was advised, as a matter of urgency, to pursue a particular form of treatment. "I cannot overemphasise to you just how strongly [the doctor] advocated that I agree to submit to an urgent . treatment," Smith wrote in her first letter of complaint to Concord Hospital on November 28, 2004. "In contrast, none of my former specialists . ever spoke to me in terms of such urgency."

Alarmed at the doctor's approach, she returned to her regular doctor, who reassured her that her condition did not yet need to be treated with urgency. By April 2004 the cancer had progressed and she was again referred to the doctor at Concord. This time he gave her advice that she says contradicted his earlier recommendations. "This time he stated very definitively that [treatment] would in no way reduce the bulk of my tumours. Both my husband and myself left this second appointment somewhat confused and distressed." Again, her cancer specialists were perplexed by this advice and she was referred to a second specialist at Concord. That second specialist told her the therapy would help reduce the bulk of her tumours. After careful consideration and much angst, she had the treatment.

The doctor in question has denied many times that he gave Smith conflicting advice. When the couple complained about the inconsistencies in his advice and attitude, they were assured by senior health bureaucrats his performance had not been called into question. Yet information they obtained under freedom of information laws tells a different story. It shows multiple concerns have been raised about the doctor's performance - and that his own colleagues had complained about his clinical and professional behaviour, some as far back as 1998.

Four months after her initial complaint, the area health service wrote to Smith, rejecting her allegations and giving the doctor's interpretation of the two consultations. The cover-up had begun. Infuriated, she wrote a second letter of complaint in August 2005. She believes the doctor falsified his notes from their meeting, and one of the findings from one of the three investigations into this issue showed the doctor had not taken contemporaneous notes at his consultations, in contravention of NSW Health and hospital policy.

Beyond the doctor's treatment of Smith, there were other serious problems relating to his performance, a senior staff specialist told the Herald. "I had innumerable clinicians complain to me about what he was doing," the specialist says. The most serious complaints relate to allegations that patients had received radiotherapy unnecessarily because the doctor had mistakenly interpreted bone scans as showing the presence of cancer. The specialist wrote his first letter to a senior hospital bureaucrat in April 1998, warning that the doctor's performance had "reached a dangerous level, impacting on patient care". "I personally had to intervene to stop one such patient being treated with high-dose radiation unnecessarily," the specialist says. On another occasion, the doctor prematurely and wrongly stopped a patient's therapy, he says.

In October 2005 the doctor again denied Smith's allegations in a letter to South West Area Health Service obtained under FoI laws. "I have not 'lied' to any person or intentionally misled them. I . can only reiterate my recollection of the consultations with the support of my letters to her referring physician," he writes. "I regret [Smith] has the perception I closed the door to discussion about possible . treatment. This was not my intention."

More correspondence followed - much of it written by Michael Smith as he repeatedly laid out the initial complaints his wife made about her treatment, followed by a growing number of complaints about their treatment by the area health service's bureaucrats. In May last year the Smiths received a four-page letter from Mike Wallace, the chief executive of the newly formed Sydney South West Area Health Service, saying an investigation had been completed and 49 recommendations had been made. Despite repeated requests, Wallace would not release the recommendations or discuss the findings with the couple.

All the area health service would tell the Herald is this: "The chief executive has referred this matter to the Independent Commission Against Corruption . on 24 January 2007. It is therefore inappropriate for the area health service . to comment. In mid-2006 the AHS offered to meet with and mediate with the family through the Health Care Complaints Commission. This offer was not taken up."

A spokeswoman said the doctor whose performance was in question had "fully co-operated with the investigation into the . family's complaint. The investigation found that there was a difference of opinion about the information conveyed by [the doctor] at the two consultations with [Maryanne Smith]."

Cliff Hughes, the chief executive of the NSW Clinical Excellence Commission, is a former senior cardiac surgeon who faced his demons as a young doctor in the public system. He is a strong believer in being up-front with patients about errors, and encourages his colleagues to do the same. And despite the problems in the state's health system, he is determined that patient safety will improve under his watch. "We are at one stage along a very rapidly progressing path - in most of the areas I think NSW is leading the procession down this path," Hughes says.

Eradicating medication errors - one of the most common causes of harm - is high on the list. The introduction of a national in-patient medication chart goes a long way to ironing out common problems and mistakes, he says. Anticoagulants such as warfarin have been tagged as a major problem, mostly because until recently such drugs have usually been dispensed about 9pm, after the prescribing doctor had gone home. Modern lab techniques mean blood test results - vital for deciding whether the drug is needed and in what quantity - are now available much earlier in the day. That means the doctor who ordered the tests in the morning is still on duty when they come back in the afternoon, Hughes says, reducing the potential for communication errors between shifts.

Another project Hughes says will reduce harm to patients is the campaign to reduce the number of unnecessary blood transfusions. "Blood is a good product but it is not entirely safe, there is the risk of both minor and major infections, immune reactions and so on," he says. "The evidence that we have collected indicates that we can reduce the level of blood usage by about 10 per cent or so across the system."

The prevention of hospital-acquired infections, via a handwashing campaign and a project on intravenous lines, as well as a falls-prevention campaign, a program to reduce aspiration pneumonia in stroke patients and a clinical leadership training package are all new, positive steps.

But even Hughes admits that guidelines are not enough. There are still 400 to 500 events in NSW that cause serious harm or death to patients each year, he says. "The real change is the whole of the system wants to measure themselves regularly, that is the big change from pre-Campbelltown days . we have got a whole system, all 108,000 [health system employees], who can report [errors] and when they report, we can take action." He acknowledges some are still reluctant to throw themselves on the mercy of the system - particularly when individuals are wrongly singled out for blame in a system where errors occur mostly as part of a chain of events. "We need to recognise there are always going to be people who are frightened of what has just happened or what nearly happened, who don't quite know what they should do and are worried about retribution."

Is change happening quickly enough? "All of us . where the risks are patients lives or wellbeing, want to move faster," Hughes says. "I don't believe NSW Health is in crisis, but we have recognised the urgency of all of these programs - it can be expensive at times, it can be draining at times, it can require more personnel at times, but we must move forward."

It could have been so different for the Smiths. This dispute could have ended so many times in the past 2« years - if the hospital or the area health service had conducted a proper investigation and if the Smiths had felt their complaints had been dealt with seriously. There were many opportunities to do it right. But what began as a simple complaint about conflicting medical advice became a lesson in dealing with the dysfunctional and bullying bureaucracy of one of the state's largest area health services.

The Smiths are idealists. They believe public servants should serve the public. They are livid at what they see as the misuse of power by senior bureaucrats who backed a doctor whose clinical skills were under a cloud following the persistent complaints from his colleagues, patients and their families.

The NSW Ombudsman and the NSW Medical Board have received complaints from the Smiths, as have the Health Care Complaints Commission, Medicare, NSW Health and the NSW Health Minister. It is unclear how those complaints are progressing.

Since the multiple inquiries into patient deaths at Camden and Campbelltown hospitals, NSW Health has gone some way to addressing medical errors and how they are investigated. Clinical governance units have been established in all health services and the Government is spending $60 million over five years to implement its patient safety and clinical quality program, a spokesman says. "The NSW health system has adopted the 'open disclosure' standard . [that] aims to promote a consistent approach by all hospitals to open communication with patients . following an adverse event." Yet for all the talk about a system of open disclosure of errors, about involving patients more in the process of health care, it seems NSW public hospitals and the bureaucrats who run them have a lot to learn.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Police furious at HIV 'cover-up'

Protecting homosexual criminals trumps all else for the Leftist government of Victoria

VICTORIA'S Department of Human Services called in the lawyers to try to stop police investigating three high-risk HIV carriers whose files were mistakenly given to police, Health Minister Bronwyn Pike confirmed yesterday. In the latest embarrassment for the department, Ms Pike admitted lawyers were called to try to retrieve the files after they had been given to the police who had a warrant to seize only a fourth man's file. The police discovery of the three other files led detectives to charge a second man with infecting a woman with HIV. Health officials were embarrassed by the mistake and called in taxpayer-funded lawyers to try to get the files back.

Police were infuriated by the department's actions, which have led to a shake-up of the public health unit and contributed to the sacking of chief health officer Dr Robert Hall.

Liberal leader Ted Baillieu asked Ms Pike in Parliament why government lawyers had been instructed to take action against the police to impede their investigations.

"More files were taken - well, handed over, taken - than the warrant required," Ms Pike said. "The Department of Human Services did seek to have those files returned."

The HIV scandal - sparked by the department's failure to detain Michael Neal, a man now accused of attempting to infect 16 people with the virus - has combined with the food poisoning deaths of five elderly people at a Camberwell nursing home to provide the biggest challenge to Ms Pike's career in the five years she has been Health Minister.

A doctor working in HIV-AIDS prevention and treatment, Jonathan Anderson, said yesterday he was concerned the growing scandal was impacting on people who were HIV positive. Dr Anderson, who operates a clinic at Carlton, said his patients were concerned that they would be targets, because of media reports of people having unprotected sex at sex-on-site venues in Melbourne, and of a subculture of people who sought to deliberately infect others with HIV. "Of all the patients I see, not one of them would want another person to have HIV," he said. "They are all very concerned that not one more person would become HIV positive. "Most [And what about those not included in "most"? We seem to have an admission there] new infections are associated with people who don't know their HIV status and pass it on to someone else before they are diagnosed."


Weird U.S./Australia arrangement

A new way to get to America -- via Australia! A bad deal for both countries

The US denies it has a legally binding agreement with Australia to swap up to 200 refugees a year between the two countries. [Australian] Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews announced this week that an agreement had been signed with the US to "provide mutual assistance for the resettlement of people in need of international protection". Under the scheme, Australia would send asylum-seekers held in its offshore processing facilities to the US; in return it would take Cuban refugees held by the US at Guantanamo Bay.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormick yesterday described the scheme struck between Washington and Canberra as a non-binding "informal arrangement for mutual assistance". "There is an informal arrangement for mutual assistance that provides that each will consider resettlement of people interdicted at sea and found to be in need of international protection," he said. "The arrangement does not create legal obligations."

The scheme was negotiated by Immigration Department secretary Andrew Metcalfe in Washington last week but the Government has refused to confirm which country initiated the deal. The Australian Government announced that 83 Sri Lankans and eight Burmese asylum-seekers detained on the Pacific island of Nauru were likely to be the first refugees to be resettled in the US under the scheme. In return, Australia is likely to resettle Cuban refugees picked up by the US Navy on their way to the US mainland.

A spokeswoman for Mr Andrews said the comments by the US State Department did not diminish the deal. "The comments by the US reflect the agreement as it stands," she said.

But Labor immigration spokesman Tony Burke said Mr McCormick's attempt to play down the deal was embarrassing for the Government. "Every way you look at it, this policy is in a shambles," Mr Burke told The Australian last night. "Logic tells us this could provide an incentive to people-smugglers and America seems to be telling us that the agreement is less iron-clad than John Howard had led us to believe."

But writing in The Australian today, Mr Andrews says potential resettlement in the US "will be a disincentive to those who seek to come to Australia illegally because they have friends here": "This is simply an additional option for the Australian Government to consider when resettling refugees and there is no guarantee that any person with a claim for asylum will be resettled in the US." Mr Andrews writes that it is important the Government does all in its power to prevent and deter the perpetrators of smuggling.

Mr McCormack, in his daily press briefing, said the scheme did not require the direct exchange of a refugee processed in Australia for one processed in the US, and that no referrals had yet been made. No one referred for resettlement in Australia would be forced to accept resettlement, he said. "In the spirit of our mutual humanitarian traditions and commitment to assist individuals in need of international protection, the US and Australia are willing to consider resettling up to 200 individuals in a calendar year referred by the other country under this arrangement," he said. "The US and Australia will each consider individuals for resettlement in accordance with our own regulations and procedures respectively."

A spokeswoman for the US embassy in Canberra said the US had agreements with several countries for the resettlement of refugees. "We want to deter dangerous and illegal migration and alien-smuggling that puts lives at risk, which is why when the US interdicts migrants at sea we don't bring them to the US," she said. Refugees accepted for resettlement from the US would be placed in the mainland Australian community.


Education vouchers, all power to parents

Progress is painfully slow on much-needed reforms to break a culture of mediocrity in public schools

PARENTS of school-aged children can be forgiven for feeling punch-drunk after a week of big talk but little action towards making Australia's education system the best it can be. Parents really need only understand the following: first, they are no closer to getting a clear idea of how individual schools perform to enable an informed choice; second, education unions remain obsessed with class-war politics; third, the Labor state governments, held hostage by the education unions, refuse to even entertain federal Education Minister Julie Bishop's plan that teachers be paid for performance rather than length of service; and finally, the best that state governments could come up with on a national curriculum was yet another bureaucracy and a promise that it would not involve a "one size fits all" approach, which seems to defeat the point.

The least subtle illustration of the three-way campaign being waged in education between the federal and state governments and respective unions can be found in television advertisements launched this week by the Australian Education Union as part of a $1.3 million campaign ahead of the federal election. Ostensibly a campaign for greater funding for public schools, which are a state responsibility using commonwealth grants, the advertisement shows a class of children at a public school being ignored by a passing John Howard. The advertisements ignore the fact that, overall, government schools receive a higher level of government funding than private schools, with the 65 per cent of students in government schools receiving 75 per cent of total taxpayer funding. But most of all, it ignores the fact that a private school student can receive only up to 70 per cent of the funding given to a student in a public school, and possibly as low as 13.7 per cent. This leaves parents who send their children to private schools effectively paying twice -- once in taxes for the public system and then again in school fees.

The teachers union campaign perpetuates the great lie that Catholic and independent schools are populated only by the children of wealthy parents. At least Labor has had the good sense to ditch former leader Mark Latham's crazy scheme to punish a hit list of private schools. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has articulated a forward-thinking agenda on education, favouring a national curriculum running from kindergarten through to Year 12 and setting literacy and numeracy benchmarks. Mr Rudd also has a track record of standing up to the teachers union in Queensland and speaking out against fashionable but less rigorous education trends such as Queensland's Studies of Society and Environment system.

At a federal level, the consensus has shifted on education towards a concern for outcomes and away from the politics of envy. The common ground for everyone except the left-wing unions is that a mix of public and private education is desirable both for parents and the state. The continued mischief by teacher unions that complain about standards, but encourage mediocrity by refusing to accept merit-based policies, is unhelpful. It is doubly disappointing that they continue to find support in state governments that have direct responsibility for funding public schools.

The Australian supports public education but also supports the right of parents to choose a private school if they wish. We acknowledge that many parents make a great financial sacrifice to provide a private school education for their children. We support merit-based pay to promote excellence in teaching and we support the provision of quality information that allows the ranking of one school against another, both public and private, to enable parents to make an informed decision. The present system encourages mediocrity and creates an effective black market where only privileged insiders know what is really going on. Parents deserve to be properly armed with knowledge and the power to make their decisions. As we have previously argued, the most equitable, transparent system for education is the allocation of vouchers that enable parents to spend their public education dollar at any institution they like. Such a system would encourage schools, whether private or independent, to perform in order to attract students. There would be an added incentive to reward good teachers properly and for schools to provide the sort of information parents need to make a decision. The Government and Labor should consider introducing a voucher system as policy for the next election. We believe it would be very attractive for parents.


Police bullying coverup in Victoria

Police union chief Paul Mullett has refused to co-operate with a police investigation into bullying claims against him and has likened the inquiry to something out of Nazi Germany. The extraordinary comments from the powerful union boss, a serving police officer, came after Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer handed down a damning report into a shoddy investigation conducted by WorkSafe into the bullying claims.

Mr Brouwer found that WorkSafe tried to avoid investigating the bullying claims relating to the former president of the association, Janet Mitchell, and failed to interview the two whistleblowers who had passed on the claim. "No one was interviewed in order to pursue obvious lines of inquiry. Rather, WorkSafe sought to argue that as the injured worker had not personally complained, they could not take the matter further," Mr Brouwer wrote. "No satisfactory reason was put to me for taking such a restrictive approach to defining complainants." He said WorkSafe investigators were improperly influenced by intense media scrutiny, a looming election and the prospect of a hard-fought pay claim involving the association.

Mr Brouwer said he had received other reports of WorkSafe failing to investigate workplace bullying and he would be examining those separately amid worries that bullied workers across the state were being let down by the agency. He has ordered Victoria Police and WorkSafe to conduct a renewed investigation into bullying claims against Mr Mullett.

Although he remains a senior sergeant with Victoria Police, Mr Mullett said he would not co-operate with investigating officers even though they have the power to demand an interview. "No. We may as well hand over the keys to the police association to the chief commissioner," Mr Mullett said. "We are living in Victoria in the year 2007 - we are not in Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany."

Consultants engaged by the association's executive to investigate the bullying claims heard allegations Mr Mullett had bullied workers and claims of threatening behaviour, people being grabbed, name calling and screaming.

Mr Brouwer said he had not formed a view as to whether the claims were true or not but he said allegations the executive director of WorkSafe was a friend of Mr Mullett and that several WorkSafe investigators were former colleagues of the association chief were false.

Mr Mullet denied he was a bully and said the claims were a myth concocted by disgruntled perpetrators of a failed plot to topple the association's leadership. He called on the state Government to examine Mr Brouwer's double role as ombudsman and director of the Office of Police Integrity.

A WorkSafe spokesman said the agency had dealt with the police association as it would any other bullying case. He said WorkSafe had changed some of its procedures in line with the Ombudsman's recommendations but bullying prosecutions were difficult to sustain because of the frequent lack of evidence that would hold up in court.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Leftist leader offers tired old anti-capitalist cliches

And totally ignores the evidence, of course

TOWARDS the end of last year, as he was positioning himself for what turned out to be a successful bid for leadership of the Australian Labor Party, Kevin Rudd wrote a couple of essays spelling out the differences between Labor's "social democracy" and what he called the "market fundamentalism" of John Howard's Coalition Government.

In an article in The Monthly entitled "Howard's brutopia", Rudd drew a distinction between social democrats such as himself and neo-liberals, among whom he included Howard. He acknowledged that Howard's rhetoric emphasised the importance of strong families and cohesive communities, but he maintained that, in practice, Howard's neo-liberal economic policies had weakened families and undermined community solidarity. He accused Howard of unleashing "unrestrained market capitalism" that had encouraged "individual greed and self-interest" and eroded the bonds that held together our society.

Rudd followed this article with a speech to the Centre for Independent Studies attacking Friedrich Hayek, whom he identified as the guru of the "free market fundamentalists". The speech was particularly critical of Hayek's claim that altruistic behaviour originated in small-scale, tribal societies, where survival depended on sharing, but that it was incompatible with the requirements of a modern economy that depended on trade between strangers. Rudd seized on this, interpreting it as an attack on the virtue of altruism per se and suggesting that Hayek wanted to "purge altruism from the human soul" to increase economic efficiency. He accepted that Hayek understood the importance of family life but said his philosophy precluded him from protecting families from the profit-maximising logic of the marketplace. He then extended this critique to the Howard Government, which he thought had pursued hardline, Hayekian economic policies without regard for their impact on the quality of family and community life.

The core of Rudd's argument in both these essays was that capitalism would "tear itself apart" unless it was regulated. This was because the self-interested pursuit of profit fatally undermined family and community life, which therefore had to be protected by government. He then applied this argument to the Howard Government's recent workplace reforms, which he believed were dismantling a civilising framework of regulation that had kept free-market capitalism in check for 100 years. As a result of these reforms, families were exposed to an "unconstrained market" and were being prevented from spending sufficient time together as profit-maximising employers used the new laws to increase exploitation. "Market fundamentalism", he said, was making "ultimate inroads" into family life.

Both Rudd's essays attracted considerable comment. CIS executive director Greg Lindsay wondered how Howard could be considered a "fundamentalist neo-liberal" disciple of Hayek when he had presided over the biggest spending federal government in our history, and Sinclair Davidson questioned Rudd's understanding of Hayek's writings on the family, altruism and social justice.

Rudd's argument that market capitalism undermines family and community life is not original. Through the years, many social theorists have maintained that capitalism destroys intimacy and a sense of belonging, and many of them have been socialists seeking to make an ethical case for more state control or regulation of the economy. The most influential writer in this tradition was probably Ferdinand Toennies. Writing in the late 19th century, he investigated the "sentiments and motives which draw people to each other, keep them together and induce them to joint action". He identified two main ones: "Natural sentiments", where people felt instinctively drawn to each other, and "rational sentiments", based in calculations of self-interest.

In modern capitalism, according to Toennies, people were encouraged to treat each other as objects, mere instruments for achieving their personal ends. Calculative individualism would have to be overcome by developing new forms of communal life, social unions involving relations of economic co-operation rather than competition. He believed organisations such as worker co-operatives could bind people in cohesive communities based on common sentiment and purpose. Toennies's thesis became a staple of sociological thinking through most of the 20th century, and it reappeared time and again in studies bemoaning the "loss of community".

Now it has resurfaced in Rudd's recent comments. Like Toennies, Rudd sees family, community and church as the foundations of social unity, and he believes these three core institutions are being undermined by individualistic free-market capitalism. But isn't there something odd about this? If Toennies was right in the 1890s that family and community life were collapsing, there shouldn't be any family and community life left in 2007 for Rudd to fret about. Claims such as these seem to be made in every generation, with little regard for empirical evidence. Like many gloomy commentators before him, what Rudd is offering is not fresh analytical insight but tired and largely discredited sociological cliches.

If family and community life has changed for the worse in Australia (and Rudd gives no evidence that it has), there is no necessary reason to assume that neo-liberal economic policies are the cause. Liberalisation of the economy may have had some effect, but the strength or weakness of family and community life is also likely to be the product of many other influences that have little or nothing to do with the economy: the growth of women's rights, innovations in contraception, the development of the welfare state, the spread of television, the decline of religious belief, increasing ethnic diversity and the communications revolution, to name a few. Rudd gives no serious consideration to these other possible causes. Instead, he jumps to the conclusion that Howard's economic reforms are to blame for family break-up and community decline, even though he gives no evidence to support it.

The Work Choices legislation passed into law in 2006, so Howard's labour market reforms have clearly had no chance to affect family and community life, negatively or positively. But even if we assume Rudd is making a more general charge against the legacy of the Howard years, the case still does not stand up. When we consider the sum of Howard's economic policies since 1996 -- the reform of company and superannuation taxes, the introduction of the GST, the free trade agreement with the US, the encouragement of workplace agreements and individual contracts, the sale of Telstra, the establishment of the Future Fund -- it is hard to see how any of it can possibly have had the effects that Rudd claims to find.

Family life has clearly changed dramatically in the course of just two generations. But the important point to note about these changes is that they nearly all occurred between the 1960s and the '80s, long before Howard came to power. Indeed, as Keith Windschuttle pointed out in his response to Rudd's comments, the period since 1996 has seen, if anything, a slight reversal in some of these trends. Divorce rates have flattened out, the marriage rate has stopped falling and even the fertility rate has started to pick up. The period when family life started to change significantly in this country, and when community cohesion, measured by indicators such as a rising crime rate, significantly weakened, coincides not with the liberalisation of the economy since the mid-'80s, but with the heyday of government regulation in the '60s and '70s. They mainly took place when Australian governments were still protecting home-based producers behind high tariff walls and were micro-managing workers' labour contracts through a tightly regulated system of awards.

Rather than offering a solution to the weakening of family and community bonds, government regulation may be part of the problem. Rudd wants to use the power of government to limit the market and to protect family and community life against "unrestrained market capitalism" but, historically, it is the expansion in the powers of government that has been a key factor undermining family and community resilience. Many factors contributed to the disruption of family life and the erosion of social responsibility that occurred from the '60s onwards, but one was almost certainly the growth of big government and the remorseless expansion of the welfare state.

Why marry the father of your child if government benefits will provide you with a secure and regular income if you don't? Why ask the grandparents to help with looking after the baby if the government is willing to give you money to buy child care? Why join a mutual health fund if the government is willing to make free health treatment available through Medicare? Why volunteer your time building up and running community facilities if the government can supply them with a wave of its chequebook? In modern Australia, it sometimes seems the only compelling reason for getting together with other people is to demand that governments do more for you.

Every time Howard or Rudd offers to do something for us, they undermine the strength of the intermediate institutions they say they are trying to protect. Every time they take it on themselves to sort out some problem, they reinforce the idea that it is the duty of government to organise our lives for us and that we have no responsibility to do anything for ourselves.

Family and community life does not need Rudd's protection. As long as these primary groups have a role to play in people's lives, they will survive and flourish without government support and subsidies. The only thing government needs to do to nurture community and family strength is to allow people the space to do things for themselves. This, however, is the one thing politicians seem to find most difficult to achieve. If anything, it is government intervention, rather than reduced regulation, that has been weakening family and community life.

Rudd claims to be a supporter of the market. He is a Labor moderniser, not an old-school reactionary. But the image he has created for himself with his recent rhetoric makes him sound more like Old Labor than an advocate of the so-called Third Way to which he says he is attracted.

There is no future for a Labor Party that defines itself in terms of limiting and regulating the market. If Rudd really wants to carve out a political niche for himself, he should be thinking of how to use markets to give ordinary people more control over the key areas of their lives still colonised by governments: their health care, their welfare and their children's education. Radical thinkers on the Left are starting to discuss policy options such as medical savings accounts and school vouchers, and they are openly debating the best way to reduce people's dependency on government welfare handouts. These are the debates Rudd should be connecting with. That way he will not only win elections; he will also end up strengthening family and community life by restoring people's responsibility for organising things for themselves.


Anti-Israel public broadcaster finally acts on bias concerns

But only after much initial denial

THE ABC has buckled to concerns of bias made by a federal parliamentarian. But the gripes have come from a Labor member, Melbourne Ports' Michael Danby, not the Government that pushed for the appointment of a bias watchdog at the ABC.

ABC managing director Mark Scott will meet Mr Danby after the MP's complaints about an intemperate email from current affairs reporter Emma Alberici and the inclusion of Israel critic Anthony Lowenstein on the new ABC TV panel discussion show, Difference of Opinion. Mr Danby complained about Mr Lowenstein's inclusion as a Jewish representative in a discussion on "Australian and Islam: a collision course?", which aired on April 2.

Mr Danby said Jeff McMullen, the program's host, had written "an extensive and quite polite letter" in response to Mr Danby's concerns that Mr Lowenstein did not represent Jewish Australians. Mr Scott has also sent a conciliatory email to Mr Danby. "He said he was looking into the issue of representation on the program and he's agreed to meet with me and we'll talk about this at some time when it's convenient," Mr Danby said.

Sandy Culkoff, an ABC Corporate spokeswoman, told The Weekend Australian: "Anthony Loewenstein was not included on the panel as a representative of the Australian Jewish community. He is a journalist and author who holds positions at Macquarie University relevant to the topics being discussed on this episode."

Mr Danby's ire at the ABC was first provoked in March during a story by Alberici on ABC radio's AM about a petition, calling for more open debate on Israel's treatment of Palestinians, signed by a group called Independent Australian Jewish Voices, which included barrister Robert Richter QC and publisher Louise Adler. After suggesting to the reporter that he and other members deserved air time to offer a counter view, Mr Danby received an email from Alberici. It said: "The fact that you want to complain about a group of people who signed a petition calling for a more wholesome debate about the issues facing Israel is not what we would necessarily count as news. What it is you are complaining about exactly is unclear."

Mr Danby filed a complaint to ABC radio's editor of network news Gordon Lavery, who replied that Mr Danby's views did not warrant further coverage. Ultimately, ABC director of corporate strategy and governance Murray Green apologised to Mr Danby. The matter is under investigation by ABC director of editorial policies Paul Chadwick. Ms Culkoff said: "The ABC takes complaints about its programs very seriously and it is being assessed against the ABC's editorial guidelines."


Innocence is no defence to the corrupt NSW cops

Very dangerous to insist on your rights when dealing with goons

Last Thursday, about 11pm, rugby league footballer Hazem El Masri and his lawyer Adam Houda were sitting outside a cafe at Regents Park in Sydney's southwest. Now, both of them are men with olive complexions and dark hair. They both fit into the catch-all category used by police officers seeking - but failing - to avoid overt ethnic stereotyping; they're both "of Middle Eastern appearance''. That's highly significant, says the high-profile Houda, who won a $145,000 compensation payout from the State Government after he was wrongfully arrested by police in 2000.

Back to last Thursday, Houda and El Masri were sitting outside the cafe, minding their own business, when a paddy wagon cruises by. According to Houda, there was a brief exchange, then the officers asked to see some identification. But, Houda says, having been given no good reason as to why they were required to identify themselves, they refused. And in an instant, the whole thing is blown out of proportion. The police apparently call for "back-up'' and in quick time Houda and the very well-known footballer are surrounded by nine police.

Now, it appears one of the officers recognised El Masri, realised some misguided "assumptions'' might have been made, and the squad cars went on their way. But Houda says he and El Masri were targeted by the police for "racial'' reasons and he is demanding an apology from Police Commissioner Ken Moroney. Having had first-hand experience of unfair treatment at the hands of the police, Houda's reaction is hardly mystifying.

But Acting Assistant Police Commissioner Frank Mennilli has a different take on the matter. He says Regents Park has been the scene of a number of robberies and acts of vandalism in recent months and that his officers were merely engaged in "pro-active policing''.


Another account:

POLICE have rejected allegations that Bulldogs star Hazem El Masri and his manager were targeted for questioning because of their race. Despite police denials El Masri and his manager Adam Houda continue to maintain that Thursday's confrontation was racially motivated and say they have electronic evidence to prove it. They are considering making it public.

El Masri and Mr Houda said they and another man were harassed by nine officers in five cars because they refused to produce identification. Acting assistant commissioner Frank Mennilli yesterday said the men were spoken to because they were sitting on a bench outside closed shops late at night and there had been robberies and vandalism in the area. The nationality of the men had nothing to do with it, he said.

Mr Mennilli said officers saw the men sitting near Regents Park train station at 11.15pm, not in a cafe, as originally claimed by El Masri and Mr Houda. He said police saw three men sitting on a bench after 11pm at night, the shops were closed and he believed the community would have expected the police to speak to them.

El Masri said: "You can't pick on whoever you want just because you are wearing a blue uniform." Mr Houda said police acted illegally and they were "harassed" and "set upon by thugs in police uniforms".


Antisemite gets fine

A young footballer who yelled "Go Nazis" as his mates abused and punched a Jewish man has been fined $1000 and branded a racist. Simon Phillip Christian, 21, admitted hurling the insult during the race attack on Menachem Vorchheimer, who had been walking to his synagogue with his son, 6, and daughter, 3.

"These words, 'Go Nazis', have echoes back to one of the most horrific events of the 20th century," magistrate Barbara Cotterell told Christian. "Your words . . . were uttered in the context of a very ugly episode. I can't think of anything more racist. "In this country we pride ourselves on being tolerant, and when episodes of this nature take place they besmirch every one of us."

Christian, of Ocean Grove, pleaded guilty yesterday to using insulting words. Melbourne Magistrates' Court heard he was one of a busload of Ocean Grove footballers returning from a day at the Caulfield races on October 14 last year. As they drove along Balaclava Rd, Balaclava, they began yelling anti-Semitic slurs, such as "Nice hat" and "Where's Joseph Gutnick?" They then abused Mr Vorchheimer. The court heard one removed his Shabbat hat and yarmulke, prompting him to run after the bus.

A motorist behind the bus who saw what was happening forced it to pull over. But when Mr Vorchheimer approached, the footballers grabbed him and punched him in the left eye, the court heard. His hat was thrown from the bus.

Prosecutor John Sutton said Christian had admitted yelling "Go Nazis". "When asked if his comments may have incited this incident, the defendant stated, 'Probably started it off, yeah'," Mr Sutton said. Defence counsel Brian Bourke argued his client was responsible and decent, and from a religious family. Christian had been the only white child in class during his schooling in Malawi, Africa, and nothing in his background suggested he was a racist. He'd also been alcohol-affected, Mr Bourke said.

But Ms Cotterell said alcohol was no excuse and his actions were "not a slip". "Anyone over the age of 10 knows that," she said. Ms Cotterell said Christian was part of a group who had demonstrated great cowardice, and their mob mentality had been exercised against a man who'd had the courage to stand up for himself. "Your client can say, 'I'm not a racist', but his behaviour on this day was extremely, extremely racist," she told Mr Bourke. Ms Cotterell convicted Christian and fined him $1000.

Outside court, Mr Vorchheimer said he was pleased. "The message I would like to get to the wider community is that prejudice is often found in misconceptions of people and who they are," he said. "They assume that I'm not Australian, which I am; they assume I'm not part of the Australian society, which I believe I am in every regard. "People should really take the time to get to know people before pre-judging them."

Christian declined to comment, his lawyer telling reporters, "He's got nothing to say. Do you understand bloody English?" Two other Ocean Grove footballers are yet to face court over the incident. One, 23, is charged with intentionally and recklessly causing injury, assault, and using insulting words; another, 28, is charged with theft.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Leftist leader defies unions

LABOR leader Kevin Rudd has further distanced his party from its union base with an industrial relations policy that restricts the right to strike and limits unfair dismissal protection. On the day that ACTU secretary Greg Combet admitted he was considering standing as a federal Labor candidate, Mr Rudd outlined Labor's new direction in a major speech to the National Press Club. Chief among the changes, a Labor government for the first time will require secret ballots before strike action, and will outlaw strike pay.

Unfair dismissal protection will be restored for some but not all of the 3.5 million workers who lost their coverage under the Howard Government's Work Choices laws. Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) will still be scrapped but Mr Rudd ruled out a return to state-based industrial relations regimes, saying he would create a uniform, national IR system for the private sector. "Industrial disputes are serious. They hurt workers, they hurt businesses, they can hurt families and communities, and they certainly hurt the economy," Mr Rudd said. "There can be no going back to the industrial culture of an earlier age."

Under the new policy, bosses with fewer than 15 staff will still be able to sack employees for any reason if they have worked for the company for less than a year. For businesses employing more than 15 people, staff will only be able to claim unfair dismissal if they have worked there for six months or more. Under current Work Choices laws, businesses with less than 100 workers can sack them at any time.

Unions say they want more details before they commit to supporting the changes, while the New South Wales Government has already said it won't hand over its industrial relations regime to the commonwealth. Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey said the changes would be a dagger to the heart of business......


Tasmanian hospital worker protests over appalling care

And the only response is buck-passing

A WORKER at the coalface of the Royal Hobart Hospital has slammed conditions in Tasmania's biggest Emergency Department. Noreen Le Mottee has broken ranks to write to RHH chief Craig White, emergency boss Dr Tony Lawler, Premier Paul Lennon and political leaders about bed closures.

As a triage clerk, she works on the front line dealing with patients and distressed families. "It is disheartening to arrive at work night after night only to find the waiting room full of sick and understandably irate patients who have been waiting up to eight hours to be seen by a doctor," she wrote. "Too often these are category 3 (urgent) patients who should be seen within 30 minutes according to the national standard."

Health Minister Lara Giddings said emergency pressures had got worse and blamed Federal Government under-funding. Mrs Le Mottee's March 27 letter has been released by the State Liberals, who said they asked for a response before going public. Her concerns included:

"As I write there are 10 patients awaiting beds, the request for one submitted 10 hours ago. "My own and other staff's frustration and embarrassment ... is nothing compared to the pain and anguish suffered by the patients. "With no ED cubicles ... no option but for patients to remain on their ambulance trolleys. "Patients are waiting because the department becomes bed-blocked when other patients cannot be sent to a ward. "I feel extremely angry knowing that Ward 1BN, some 30 beds, has been closed since before Christmas ... it must be addressed urgently before the situation worsens with the onset of winter."

Mrs Le Mottee said yesterday she would not speak further and that her letter "said it all". Category 3 includes severe illness, people with head injuries but conscious, major bleeding from cuts, major fractures, persistent vomiting or dehydration.

Liberal health spokesman Brett Whiteley said Mrs Le Mottee had still not heard from anyone apart from the Liberals. Ms Giddings said the Howard Government's neglect meant Tasmanians were finding it harder to get health care and the results were showing up in all public hospitals. Australian Nursing Federation secretary Neroli Ellis said there were 34 beds closed.


The latest excuse for not building dams

This is a pathetic bit of propaganda below. The extra cost and use of resources involved in supplying tank water to every household would be HUGE. And don't Greenies claim we are using too many resources already? Every tank has an associated electric pump to make the water accessible so imagine the extra electicity usage of a million such pumps being turned off and on all the time!

PEOPLE living in Sydney and Brisbane get the best value from their water tanks, a report has found, with the rainfall patterns of those cities favouring individual household collection. But the initial cost of buying a tank remains high, the report's survey of 20 tank suppliers found, with a two-kilolitre tank costing an average of $2788 and a 20-kilolitre tank costing $4909.

The report, by the National Water Commission, said water collected in tanks was more expensive than that provided by utilities but it was becoming more cost-effective. On top of the initial price, people had to budget for repairs and cleaning.

The report found that tanks helped households lower their water bills and there were a number of potential benefits that could not be priced. These included "mitigating the effects of water restrictions on [owners'] lifestyle, amenity and property values; improving the taste of water in areas of poor water quality; and a sense of community mindedness". About 17 per cent of households have rainwater tanks, with many state governments offering rebates and requiring their inclusion in new developments.

The report was critical of water utilities' assessments of water tanks, saying they had not presented them "in such a positive light, concluding that tanks are generally less cost-efficient and energy-efficient than many other water supply solutions". The report was also critical of government advertising campaigns. It said they needed to be "more transparent in evaluating the cost-effectiveness of their own programs to encourage rainwater tanks, and more up-front with taxpayers and consumers about the costs and benefits of the subsidies provided".

Sydney and Brisbane consistently recorded the highest amounts of water captured and used, compared with Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth. The report said tanks in the two cities compared favourably with dams because many households were closer to the coast where rainfall was more frequent. This had resulted in a "green drought", where dam levels continued to drop despite reasonable rain along the coast. The report suggested people should consider the type of rainfall in their area before installing a tank. Timing of rainfall was more important than quantity.

The report, by Marsden Jacob Associates, found the average five-kilolitre tank should provide 71 kilolitres of water during an average year. Roof size was an important factor in rain capture. A separate report by the same consultants found that if rainwater tanks were installed in 5 per cent of households a year the need for a desalination plant in Sydney could be delayed until 2026. That report, commissioned by environment groups, found installing water tanks in 5 per cent of homes in Sydney, Melbourne and south-east Queensland would provide as much additional water as planned desalination plants in Sydney and on the Gold Coast and the first stage of the Traveston Dam on the Mary River.



Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Friday reiterated his opposition to targets for cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. Speaking to reporters after meeting with state government leaders in Canberra, Howard said he had rejected a call to set a target of reducing Australia's emissions by 60 per cent. "We were unwilling, for reasons I have stated publicly, to commit to a particular target because of the possible consequences of that on the economy," the prime minister said.

The Howard government has come under pressure to join every other developed country other than the United States and sign the Kyoto Protocol on curbing climate change. Howard maintains that joining any international scheme to abate climate change would disproportionately affect Australia because it's the world's biggest coal exporter and relies on coal for over 80 per cent of electricity generation.

He rejects Kyoto because it doesn't include China, India and other developing countries in the first-round effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Howard said he would fund a Climate Change Adaptation Centre in Canberra to help prepare the country for warmer weather, less rainfall and rising sea levels.


Killers lurk in spa bath

THERE could be a killer lurking in your spa, and the best way of slaying it and its lethal compadres is simple, effective and very cheap. It's elbow grease.

This week Queensland Health sent out a notification that two visitors to a Gold Coast resort had been diagnosed with legionnaires disease - which they had contracted after using the resort's spa bath.

It makes sense that the warm, moist environment inside the filters and pipes of spa baths and pools would make the perfect place for bugs such as legionnaires pneumophilia to set up home and procreate. Australian Medical Association Queensland infectious diseases expert Michael Whitby said the legionella bug was readily found throughout the world, from Antarctica to jet engine oil, but it was most commonly found in water. He said the major outbreaks in Australia, which include a scare at the Yamanto police station in Ipswich in 2005, had been associated with the cooling towers of large buildings that had not been properly maintained. "They have a lot of metal fragments that help legionella to grow, and for legionella to get into your lungs it has to be in very small particle size so you have to actually spray them out of the airconditioning system to breathe them in," Dr Whitby said.

It's this spray, created when water is expelled at high pressure, that can make spas a risk. Queensland Health senior director of population health Linda Selvey said the mist provided a perfect avenue for bugs to make their way into lungs. "The big issue with spas is that the water is warmer so it provides a nice environment for bugs to live in," Dr Selvey said. "Secondly, because you're forcing air through the pipes at reasonably high pressures to get bubbles, you get a mist of water above the spa pool and you actually acquire legionella infection by breathing in the bugs."

Dr Selvey said the best way to prevent infection was to empty spa pools once a month and manually clean the filters and pipes. "With spa pool maintenance it's very important to empty the pool and pull out the filters and with a bit of elbow grease scrub them clean," she said. "And the emptying and cleaning of filters needs to be done once a month."

There are several types of legionella, but the two that occur most commonly here are pneumophilia and longbeachae. Pneumophilia is the type associated with spas and cooling towers, as it produces pneumonia-like symptoms such as a high temperature, coughing and shortness of breath. Longbeachae is found in soil and is the reason behind many potting mixes carrying safety warnings. Both are potential killers.

This year there have been 12 cases of legionnaires disease in Queensland. Legionella is a relatively modern bug, identified in the late 1970s after several delegates from an American Legion conference in Boston fell ill and died shortly after the meeting. While a good scrub is the best way of keeping pipes and filters clean, washing spas out with degreasing solutions is also important to control buildups of body fats, soap residue, oils and scum


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Your government will protect you

First it puts its employees into unseaworthy boats

THE families of five people killed when an immigration department boat capsized heard today during an inquest in far north Queensland the vessel was poorly designed and lacked safety equipment. All five people aboard Malu Sara died when the immigration vessel sank on its 74km journey across open seas from Saibai Island to Badu Island, in the Torres Strait, on October 15, 2005. The 6m aluminium-hulled patrol boat was carrying two immigration agents and three local residents when it vanished.

The Malu Sara was one of six vessels purpose-built by Cairns-based boat builders Subsee Australia - now in receivership - for the then Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs Department. The fleet was launched by then immigration minister Amanda Vanstone on August 26, 2005, and issued a seaworthy notice on September 2 - only a month before the tragedy.

But at today's inquest at Thursday Island's courthouse, an investigator from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said tests on the remaining boats found they were not seaworthy. He said tests on one boat saw it capsize just minutes after water was pumped into it. He outlined problems with the construction of the vessel and safety equipment on board, including that it had no navigational chart or sea anchor.

The remaining five vessels were impounded indefinitely after they failed almost every standard safety and construction test after the tragedy. An investigation by ATSB, which reported in May last year, concluded that it was a "tragedy waiting to happen". The Malu Sara was never found.


And then it ignores survivor sightings

WITNESSES in search aircraft looking for five people missing after the Immigration vessel Malu Sara sank in the Torres Strait reported seeing people alive in the water the day after the tragedy. But the first day of a coroner's hearing into the sinking heard that their statements were discounted and left out of the official report into the disaster, despite details of what the "survivors" were wearing.

In a surprising twist, Ralph Devlin SC for the Immigration Department asked Kit Filor, the author of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau report into the tragedy, if he had seen witness statements from State Emergency Service personnel saying they had seen a person alive in the water on October 16, 2005, the day after the Malu Sara sank. Mr Filor - who is now retired but at the time was the ATSB deputy director, surface safety investigations - told the hearing before state coroner Michael Barnes he had read a search-and-rescue report that described "somebody in a red or yellow jacket waving his arms".

Mr Devlin asked Mr Filor if the witness statement came from a civilian aircraft with an SES officer on board. Mr Devlin then quoted from the witness statement: "A person alive in the water was located at 4pm on Saturday, October 15, and again contact was made at 1pm on Sunday, October 16 - but we do not see any mention of that in the ATSB report."

Mr Filor said he had not been made aware of the detail of the reported sightings. "We were made aware that sightings had been made but were discounted," Mr Filor replied. The Malu Sara has never been found and the body of only one of the five people on board has been discovered.

Mr Filor was later asked by Michael Fellows, counsel for Immigration Department officer Garry Chaston, if he had seen a report of a sighting of a person in the water "with a large brown pole". He said he had not been made aware of that detail, and it was then put that the sighting could have been the skipper of the Malu Sara, Wilfred Baira, who was known to have with him on the boat a "wap", a 5m spear used for hunting dugong.


Don't count on osmosis to impart written language skills

A Leading legal academic laments that his A-grade university students are deficient in basic literacy and English grammar

ANY disinterested observer would say that the world is better today, on average, than it has ever been. People are living longer, much longer. They have more to eat. They can travel more. They have more leisure. They have more interesting jobs. A far, far smaller percentage of them are stuck as subsistence farmers. And however much things have improved for men in the past century or two, they are three or four times better again for women, at least in the Western world. If anyone seriously wanted to debate that basic claim with a straight face, I'd be happy to do so, preferably for lots of money. I mention it simply because normally it is just out and out false to paint former times - 30, 40 or 50 years ago even - as some sort of golden age when things were so much better than today.

Most jeremiads, or doleful laments about the failings of the here and now, are fairly implausible, to put it as kindly as possible. Rarely do these mournful denunciations of the present stand up to comparative testing. And yet there is one area of life I am intimately aware of where the falling standards grievance appears to be clearly correct. I am talking about university students and their basic grasp of literacy and grammar.

And let me be abundantly clear that I am talking about some of the best university students in the country. These are not just any students. They are what can properly be described as elite students, the very top high school students in all of Queensland who have managed to pass through a winnowing process that the vast preponderance of their fellow high school students fails to get through. It is extremely difficult to get into the law school at my university and the students who manage to do so have some of the best marks, and minds, in Australia.

Yet lots and lots of these highly intelligent tertiary students lack basic grammar knowledge. Forget gerunds or the subjunctive. They cannot cope with basic sentence construction. They use semicolons and colons without the faintest idea of how they should be used, and on a seemingly random basis. The possessive apostrophe is either wholly absent, is regularly confused with the abbreviating apostrophe, is sprinkled around in the hope of getting it correct once in a while (giving the reader such treats as the possessive its'), or all of the above. Definite and indefinite articles are regularly omitted. Run-on sentences are commonplace. And it's not even an exaggeration to say that a few of them don't seem to realise that you need a verb to make a sentence, that "Being the prime minister" doesn't quite cut it.

Quite simply, my elite law students, or a good many of them at any rate, have been provided with almost no technical writing and English grammar skills. One must assume that the same is true of virtually all Australian school leavers. Nor are these particularly challenging skills to acquire. All of my students have the intelligence to learn them in two or three weeks, in my view. They have quite literally, or so I hear on occasion, never been taught these things. Why not? It could be, I suppose, that these skills are no longer considered important. More crucial, on this view, is the fostering of children's (or should we now say childrens?) creativity and self-esteem. But if that, or some similar notion, is one of the reasons so many tertiary students seem to have atrocious writing skills, let me give you the other side of the story.

No one can think at all without language and its labels, categories and generalisations. It follows that no one can think clearly unless they can use language clearly. To make a subtle point or introduce a fine distinction, one needs the tools that a complex and sophisticated language offers. Nor does a knowledge of these complexities and sophistications curtail creativity. Jane Austen was a master of English grammar. And what would Winston Churchill's speeches have been had he not had a superb grasp of the language?

Of course, one might think clarity, precision, irony, humour and even a fully developed capacity for self-expression must bow down before the need to foster students' self-esteem or creative urges. Personally, though, I've never come across any very creative writers - be they political commentators, authors of fiction, historians, what have you - whose grasp of basics was deficient.

Worse, or at least ironically, the absence of sound writing skills may well, in adult life, serve to lessen one's self-esteem. It may make it harder to get a job or a promotion, or may make one feel inarticulate and dumb. Take law, my profession. Lawyers spend their working lives manipulating language. They draft contracts, wills, articles of incorporation and myriad sorts of letters. They argue in court. They interpret statutes. They pick over the words of judges in past cases. Their job revolves around the expert use of language. Of course a solid grounding in basic English skills is a huge advantage to them, and to many, many others.

Alas, a more depressing possibility in getting basic grammar skills taught today may be that a sizeable chunk of our recently graduated teachers may not know these skills themselves. Years of the osmosis school of learning to write, where you just cross your fingers and pray that by reading enough some ineffable and mysterious process will kick in and people will magically pick it up, may be coming home to roost. That wouldn't be much of a surprise, would it? Merely to state the osmosis approach shows how ridiculous it is.

(The author above, James Allan is a professor of law at the University of Queensland, has taught at universities in New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong)


Stem cells help Australian woman to walk

A sad day when Indian bureaucracy is less restrictive than Australia's

A BRISBANE woman who was paralysed in a car accident is walking again after receiving controversial stem-cell treatment in India. Australian doctors told mother-of-three Sonya Smith 18 months ago that she would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Her spine was broken after she was crushed by her car when the handbrake failed and it rolled down a hill. But after eight weeks of embryonic stem-cell injections, Mrs Smith, 45, is now able to stand with the aid of calipers and has regained bowel and bladder control.

She says she has recovered "deep sensation" in her thighs and feet and has been able to swing her legs. "When I first moved my toes, I was blown away," she said. "The doctors in Australia told me I would never walk again, but now I actually think I will be able to - without calipers some day."

Mrs Smith heard about the treatment from her sister, who lives in India, where medical guidelines are less stringent. Phil Smith, 44, said yesterday that his wife's recovery had been "amazing". Mr Smith, an editor with Channel 7 in Brisbane, spoke from the family home in Bardon where the couple live with their daughters, Kirsty, 10, Holly, 8, and Carly, 7. He said his wife would be coming home next month for Holly's birthday. "I've been speaking to her every day and she gets better all the time," he said. "It's been hard for her having the treatment in India and we hope one day it is available here. "Of course there are concerns about stem cells, but Sonya wouldn't have had a chance."

Mrs Smith is one of more than 300 patients who have been treated in New Delhi by controversial stem-cell pioneer Dr Geeta Shroff. The treatment, forbidden in Australia, involves collecting stem cells from embryos and injecting them into injured or diseased patients. When taken from embryos, the cells are undeveloped and seem better able to replace damaged tissue.

Critics have described the treatment as irresponsible and unethical. But Dr Shroff shrugged off the scepticism. "These are people who are desperate and I have given them hope. What is wrong with that?" she said. Dr Shroff claims to have an "inexhaustible" bank of stem cells from a single embryo, which she uses to treat Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and motor neurone disease. She has never submitted her work for international scrutiny.

Australian legislation was passed last year allowing scientists to clone human embryos to extract stem cells, but only for research. This month, state MPs will vote on whether to allow the practice in Queensland. Mrs Smith, a teacher aide at Petrie Terrace State School, urged governments to do more to make the treatment available in Australia.


Drug use in prisons is of no interest to you

The government freedom FROM information mentality again

At any time of day at least 1200 inmates of NSW jails are floating through their sentences in a drug-induced haze. We know this because every time the Department of Corrective Services tests them, one in seven comes up positive. And yet, the department has ruled that although this information is not exempt from release, it is not in the public interest to do so. In a determination that leaves you wondering just what material will ever qualify as being of public interest, the acting Commissioner of Corrective Services, Luke Grant, says a request for these results has failed seven out of seven public interest tests.

See if you can understand the thinking in the bureaucracy that runs the state's prisons. In the late 1980s, the Greiner government began compulsory urine testing of prisoners and released the results. Nearly twenty years later, testing is a fixed part of prison life. Each year about 18,000 tests are done on the 9000 inmates and we now know the results are consistently 12.5 to 14.5 per cent positive.

Results have not been released for years, so the Herald lodged a freedom-of-information request for figures for the past five years ,with a breakdown of which drugs had been detected. We also sought any reports on the program for the same period, to see whether the hundreds of thousands of dollars it cost each year were worth spending. And we asked for the 50 per cent discount on any charges. These turned out to be a modest $232.50, but the law says discounts are available in only cases of public interest.

Although it agreed to release the material requested, the department refused the discount. We asked for a review of that decision. As the acting departmental head, it was Mr Grant's job to explain why it was not in the public interest to grant access to these results, which used to be released by the government without charge. In deciding where the public interest lay, Mr Grant referred to the Premier's guidelines on freedom of information. They are the ones written in 1994, before the internet arrived; the same ones which the Premier told Parliament in August were being updated and would be released last December. Those old guidelines give Mr Grant seven points to consider before granting a discount.

There is no space to list them all, but here is a summary. To what extent will the information be made public? What is the value/benefit/interest of the public in the information? Is the information otherwise available to the public? Will granting a discount foster the disclosure of information? Will the discount help extend as far as possible the right of the public to access government information?

Mr Grant found against the Herald on every count. One reason he cited was that the department already published reports on drug use by prisoners. That is true, but these contain radically different findings to the urine tests, with no explanation of why.

The latest report, dated 2005, was based on interviews with prisoners. It said 63 per cent of male prisoners used illegal drugs in jails. And that figure did not include the unauthorised prescription drugs that were caught in the urine tests.

How widespread that problem is we do not know, because the department did not release those figures in its breakdown of the urine results. It says it provided a breakdown, but it was a breakdown minus the numbers. Most would call it a list. More proof of insufficient public interest was the Herald's handling of documents received from an earlier freedom-of-information request for the results of a new program of drug-testing prison officers.

Mr Grant was concerned that a Herald report detailing these results appeared under the headline ``Prison system skilled at delaying release of facts''. The headline, on this column in December, ``would not have captured the attention of members of the public who are interested in the drug testing of staff ...''. Therefore, he argued, the information would not have flowed to the public at large. Let us hope Mr Grant was more pleased with the headline this week on our story summarising the department's urine-test results, ``Crackdowns failing in battle on drugs in jail''. Maybe that meets the public interest test.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Public broadcaster scaremongering on the environment

NEWSFLASH: Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he can't guarantee the Great Barrier Reef will still be here in 20 years. That's how our ABC breathlessly reported Turnbull's response to the recycled report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. For the record, Turnbull also refuses to guarantee the world will not be under attack from an intergalactic force or threatened by any asteroids streaking toward it in 2027. But your ABC hasn't got around to reporting his position on those eventualities because intergalactic forces and asteroid attacks are not part of its agenda. Yet.

If our ABC has found anyone to guarantee the security of the Great Barrier Reef, the height of Mt Everest or the snows of Kilamanjaro in 2027, it isn't saying. But the fact that it can lead its news broadcast with a statement of such utter fatuity indicates how deeply its cultural warriors have committed themselves to flaying the Government over claims of human-induced global warming.

It is interesting to note that, when the ABC was broadcasting Turnbull's refusal to guarantee the future of the Great Barrier Reef at 9am on the Saturday of the Easter weekend, he was in Washington where he had just secured the support of the US for the Howard Government's initiative to reverse global deforestation. While the ABC was either replaying an old broadcast of Opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett demanding Australia sign up to the failed Kyoto Accord, or playing a new interview with Garrett repeating his old demand that Australia sign the dead accord, Turnbull was meeting White House Council on Environmental Quality chairman James Connaughton, the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Dr Paula Dobriansky and other senior US officials, and securing their agreement to work together to face the international challenge of global warming.

And, while the ABC was replaying Garrett's new or recycled views, Turnbull had flown halfway around the world to Indonesia to talk to his Indonesian counterpart, Rachmat Witoelar, about Indonesia's support for the projects already under way aimed at preserving old growth forest and stopping illegal logging. According to Turnbull, Indonesia has even agreed to permit the use of satellites to identify areas of illegal logging, a plan critics were quick to claim would be unacceptable to Australia's northern neighbour. Those critics were wrong, but our ABC has yet to broadcast that fact.

"Indonesia is more than willing to accept any technical assistance we can provide," Turnbull said. "If the world could halve the current rate of deforestation, we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by three billion tonnes a year, almost 10 times more than what would be achieved under Kyoto."

Garrett is not Kyoto's only champion. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd is also trying to push Australia into the joke protocol and last week the European Union's Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas was given ample ABC air time to bash the Howard Government for refusing to sign up and place the Australian economy at risk. The problem for the EU is that Australia is actually on track to meet its Kyoto target but, as Prime Minister John Howard noted last week, at least 12 of the EU's 15 member nations, including Denmark, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy, are unlikely to meet their 2012 Kyoto commitments.

What Al Gore, the EU, the UN, Garrett and Rudd all choose to ignore is the science which shows that the Earth's climate has always been variable and that climate change can be attributed to many things but that among the least likely to have had any influence is human activity. Professor Ian Plimer of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Adelaide says the current theory of human-induced global warming is not in accord with history, archaeology, geology or astronomy and must be rejected. Further, he says, the current promotion of this theory as science is fraudulent and the current alarmism on climate change is not science....

While some adults believe they will feel better if they publicly confess to leaving a light on at night and while The Sydney Morning Herald believes we should take a lead from frightened primary school students, most rational people want to understand the science behind the wild claims being made for climate change.

To date, the debate has been led by those seeking political and economic gain through fear. Professor Plimer's view is unpopular because it absolves humans from blame and robs the self-flagellating publicity-seekers of their moment in the spotlight. It does not however mean that his views are not as deserving of equal consideration in this debate. As for Turnbull and Garrett, one is out there walking the walk and the other is just talking through his very necessary hat.


Victoria: The government version of urgency

LIFE-threatening ambulance delays at overcrowded hospital emergency departments are growing longer. Emergency ambulances now take an average of 32 minutes to unload a patient. This "at hospital time" has jumped four minutes in the past six months and has stretched by eight minutes, or 33 per cent, in the past two years. A frustrated paramedic sent photographs of ambulances queueing outside the Monash Medical Centre's emergency Department to the Herald Sun. He said six emergency ambulances and two patient transfer ambulances waited for up to an hour to offload their patients last week.

Metropolitan Ambulance Service operations general manager Keith Young acknowledged growing delays were affecting emergency response times. "There are growing pressures on some hospitals that ultimately result in a delay in us unloading patients, which is a concern," Mr Young said.

The MAS aims to respond to 90 per cent of emergencies in 14 minutes. In 2005, the target was 13 minutes. A MAS survey in 2005 found a strong community preference for response targets of less than 10 minutes. In recent months the average response time to 90 per cent of emergency calls has been close to 16 minutes, a Health Department source said. "There have been several close calls where it looked like it would hit 16 minutes," the source said.

Paramedics said there was no doubt the delays would cost lives. One said hospitals continued to force ambulances to queue to avoid financial penalties imposed by the State Government on hospitals that go on full or partial bypass too often. "The system is broken and (Premier Steve) Bracks has hidden behind a lot of smoke and mirrors for a long time," the paramedic said. "The early warning and bypass system is fundamentally flawed. "It penalises a (struggling) hospital by taking money from them when they need the money to pour into (extra) staff. "The end result is patients are put at risk."

A Health Department source said overcrowding had become so dire at the Royal Melbourne Hospital that it had virtually given up telling the MAS when it was too busy to cope with more patients. Hospital emergency department staff claim they are regularly directed to ignore bypass and early warning systems designed to help ambulances avoid crowded hospitals. The practice has become common since the Herald Sun revealed last year that the Royal Melbourne had spent 102 hours on full or partial ambulance bypass last May, more time than any other hospital. Mr Young confirmed some hospitals had been spoken to about diverting ambulances when their emergency departments were full. A reference committee of MAS, department and hospital representatives was looking at new management strategies to deal with delays.


The "drought" hits Western Australia too

SUNDAY'S downpour brought Perth its wettest day in almost two years with a massive 40.4mm of rain recorded between 9am Sunday and 9am Monday. The last time Perth experienced similar conditions was in June 2005, with the showers taking us close to April’s monthly average of 44mm.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s Adam Conroy said the massive figure was unexpected. “Yesterday’s showers brought more rain than all of June last year, which only saw 24.6mm falling,” he said.

The showers and thunderstorms wreaked havoc on our roads, with minor flooding in some areas. Conroy said it was the tenth wettest April day on record and we will be lucky to get anything close to it for the rest of the month. “We’ve got a weak cold front coming on Tuesday night and through Wednesday morning, and another one on Friday night, but we’re unlikey to see falls like the one we’ve had with this system,” he said.


Weapon paranoia in Australia too

A YOUNG mother who says she uses a small penknife only to cut fruit for her son has been arrested for having an offensive weapon in a courthouse. Jessica Lee Woods, 23, a student from Pimpama on the Gold Coast, and the daughter of a former policeman, was charged with having possession of a knife in the Southport Magistrates Court without reasonable excuse on March 14. Ms Woods was not required to enter a plea to the charge when she appeared in the Southport Magistrates Court on Wednesday when the case was listed for mention.

Outside court, her solicitor, Will Keys, said he will seek to have the charge struck out when the case resumes on Friday. "I'm appalled at the way this girl was treated," Mr Keys said. He said he would ask for the charges to be dropped, the photographs and fingerprints taken by police to be returned to his client and for legal costs to be reimbursed.

Mike Woods, 57, a former sergeant employed for 20 years in the Northern Territory police force, yesterday accused police of wasting resources by arresting his daughter after a complaint was made by court security staff. Mr Woods said he was concerned Jessica, who is finishing a course at TAFE to start work as a teacher's aide, may have trouble getting a blue card to work with children unless all evidence of the charge was removed from police records.

In statements provided to Mr Keys, Jessica and her brother, Luke, 22, explained how they had to attend the Southport Courthouse on March 14 for a civil matter involving a property dispute when they passed through a security scanner. After being asked if she was carrying any sharp objects, Ms Woods checked her handbag and produced a penknife and small Swiss army knife - both closed and only 4cm long. When asked by police why she was carrying the knives, Ms Woods said she told them: "I use them to cut fruit for (my four-year-old son) Seth."


Red tape is strangling Australian family life

By Sue Dunlevy

I DECIDED I'd had enough of the nanny state the day my kids came home in disgrace because they had hummus for lunch - it was the same day the ACT Government banned me from walking my dog to school. Business is always whingeing about government regulations, but what about the red tape strangling family life? Governments are now trying to micro-manage every aspect of a parent's job - from telling you what you can feed your kids and how you can discipline them to how much television they can watch. Now Kevin Rudd wants to test what sort of a parent you are by measuring your child's waistline, empathy, curiosity and whether they pick up a pencil dropped by a classmate.

My one luxury as a working mum used to be lunch order day - but the healthy canteen policy has robbed me of that. Instead of sleeping in one day a week I'm now up packing lunches - because cream cheese and lettuce sandwiches just don't have the same appeal to my kids as chicken nuggets. "Mum, I don't do sandwiches," my 11-year-old solemnly informed me during the canteen's healthy sandwich drive.

Even the task of concocting a healthy home-made lunch has become a feat of Olympic proportions, thanks to the school's new nut-free policy. After calling a family conference to workshop lunch ideas that removed nuts, muesli bars and peanut butter from my kids' lunchboxes, I thought I had the perfect solution: chicken and hummus rolls that are not only good but tasty.

Wrong. Hummus (which I never realised until now is a nut) is also banned because it has sesame seed paste in it.

That just happened to be the day the school newsletter informed me that getting the kids fit by walking the dog to school with them was now also illegal and I'd be fined if I took the dog on to school grounds.

If governments want to wrap families in red tape they should at least make sure the rules they set are consistent. Do they want us to feed our kids healthy food and get them fit or not?

What annoys me most about the burgeoning nanny state is that all families are being penalised by rules meant to stop the bad practices of a minority. If one in four children are overweight, that means the overwhelming majority aren't. The 75 per cent of families who buy their kids one junk food meal a week at the school canteen as a treat are penalised because a few parents feed their kids junk more often.

This is an election year and I reckon it's time for families to fight back against the government red tape that is taking the spontaneity out of parenting. Ban boring televised debates between two leaders and put them to a real life test. Before we let Kevin Rudd or John Howard impose any more we-know-better-than-you rules on families, they should have to try to battle with the problems their rules have already caused.

Let's run the election campaign like a reality TV show. Instead of touring the country making staged policy announcements, John Howard and Kevin Rudd should each be put in a suburban home with two kids for five weeks. Hidden cameras can show the voters how they manage the family budget with child care fees of $90 a day and subsidies of just $4.57 a day. Every morning they will have to come up with a packed lunch that's not only healthy but complies with the school's nut-free, seed-free, taste-free allergy policy and yet is still eaten by the children.

They'll have to work out how to fit in exercising the dog and the kids while getting the kids to school without straying on to school grounds. They'll have to juggle working overtime with the massive penalties for picking your kids up late from childcare and still get home in time to cook a healthy meal. They'll have to figure out how to entertain the starving and exhausted kids who aren't allowed to watch television or play on the computer and can't go to the local park because it has been stripped of its play equipment because of public liability risk.

And, before they can creep exhausted into bed, John and Kevin will have to find a non-existent product which will kill nits and spend an hour of quality time combing lice out of the childrens' hair. Only when they can do all this do they deserve the right to impose more new rules on us.


Monday, April 16, 2007

PM wants immigration HIV ban

Prime Minister John Howard said Friday that Australia should bar immigrants with HIV, and his government was examining ways to make its tough restrictions even stronger. HIV-AIDS workers accused Howard of promoting the racist belief that immigrants -- particularly Africans -- were responsible for bringing the disease to Australia. Advocates also said they were puzzled by the idea of tightening laws that reject most HIV-positive prospective migrants and refugees now.

Howard was asked in a radio interview in Melbourne, the capital of Victoria state, if he thought people with HIV should be allowed into Australia as migrants or refugees. Howard replied that while he wanted more advice on the issue, "my initial reaction is, no." "There may be some humanitarian considerations that could temper that in certain cases, but prima facie -- no," he told Southern Cross Broadcasting. "I think we should have the most stringent possible conditions in relation to that." He said Health Minister Tony Abbott was "examining ways of tightening things up."

Many countries, including the United States, restrict immigration and visa approvals for people with HIV, though there are often exceptions. Australia has long had rules that can be used to block people with communicable diseases such as tuberculosis from entering. Exceptions can be made in some circumstances, such as when an HIV-positive prospective migrant is related to an Australian citizen. AIDS activists say there are few countries, such as Qatar, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, that impose outright bans on immigration by HIV-positive people.

Don Baxter, of the nongovernmental group the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations, said prospective immigrants are given HIV tests and most HIV-positive applicants were rejected on the grounds that they could place an unfair burden on the public health system.

Chris Lemoh, an infectious disease specialist who is researching HIV-AIDS among African immigrants in Victoria, said a ban on people with HIV would be a "hysterical overreaction." "It mixes racism with a phobia about infectious disease," he said. "To not allow people to come on the basis of any health condition is immoral, it's unethical and it's impractical to enforce." Pamela Curr, an advocate at the Asylum Seeker Resource Center, said Howard's comments promoted an "untruth" that foreigners -- particularly Africans -- were to blame for the HIV problem in Australia.


Terror hate books to be banned

BOOKS and DVDs glorifying terrorist acts will be pulled from the shelves and prevented from entering the country under tough new Federal laws, to be unveiled today. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has declared a "zero-tolerance approach" to material that "advocates" terrorism. Under the existing Classification Act, material can only be removed from sale if it is deemed likely to "promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence". But the amended law - to be discussed at a meeting between Mr Ruddock and the state attorneys-general in Canberra today - makes it an offence to circulate material that "advocates" a terrorist act. Imported material published outside Australia will be stopped at Customs if it is found to glorify, praise or encourage acts of terrorism.

"We are not going to allow material to be out there saying terrorism is a good idea," he told The Daily Telegraph yesterday. "This is a zero-tolerance approach to terrorism. "Terrorism acts are a specific and highly dangerous threat to Australian society. Material that advocates people undertake such acts should not be available for this reason alone." An example of material that could be banned under the law are the Death Series DVDs released by Sydney firebrand cleric Sheik Feiz Mohammed, in which he called for Muslim children to be recruited as "holy warriors".

The books of hate first exposed by The Daily Telegraph also would be targeted. Censorship authorities banned two of the eight books promoting jihad, or "holy war", being sold in southwest Sydney, but the other six probably would be outlawed under the changes. One of the books deemed acceptable under the existing Classification Act, The Criminal West, by Omar Hassan, depicts Australian police as rapists. "(Australia is) a country with a police force that, instead of providing protection, the police themselves pick up young girls from the streets around the city area and rape them inside police stations, and pick up young boys and bash them up to death inside police cells," Hassan writes.

Mr Ruddock said the changed law would aim at removing offensive material from the shelves, rather than seeking to prosecute the authors or speakers responsible for them. He said that the controversial sedition laws covered incitement of terrorism offences and required a "very high standard of proof". "The classification scheme targets the material, not the person who creates it. Sometimes it's hard to identify the right person, or they are outside our jurisdiction. "This proposal is intended to get inflammatory material inciting terrorism out of circulation without having to conduct a criminal prosecution."

Mr Ruddock will present his proposal of the amended law at a meeting with censorship ministers, who also act as attorneys-general, today. The plan is likely to trigger intense debate over the Government's role in determining what is fit for publication. The NSW and Victorian Governments are likely to oppose it, claiming current classification laws are strict enough. However, Mr Ruddock is determined to push ahead, claiming public safety overrides issues of free speech.


Islamic hate film gets PG rating

A PRO-TERROR hate film that urges children to martyr themselves in Islam's war on the West and calls Jews "pigs" has been rated PG by Australia's censors. Sheik Feiz Mohammed's DVD box set, which also calls for the murder of non-believers, was initially seized by Federal anti-terror police. But the Office of Film and Literature Classification has ruled that The Death Series is suitable to be bought and watched by children.

The shock decision has seen the nation's peak censorship body slammed as weak and out of touch by family groups and the Jewish community. It has also made a mockery of the Attorney-General's plans to bring in tough new laws that ban material which "advocates" terrorism.

The PG decision comes as Australian-born Sheik Feiz, who is in exile in Lebanon, is still preaching to Australians by phone. The films urge parents to make their children holy warriors and martyrs, and praises jihad as the pinnacle of Islam. The radical sheik makes snorting noises on the films as he vilifies Jews as the "army of pigs". He blames a lack of courage for martyrdom on the battlefield for the "humiliation" of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Guantanamo.

The censors' finding means children of any age can watch the films - but it is advised under-15s have a parent present. The OFLC finding said the sheik's calls to "jihad" and "martyrdom" were ambiguous. And it found that comments vilifying Jews as an "army of pigs" and saying "behind me is a Jew, come kill him" were mitigated by the context.

The Australian/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council said the PG rating proved the current censorship guidelines had dangerous shortcomings. "In the Feiz Mohammed case, as well as others, there seems to be inadequate consideration to the dangers posed by the non-fiction advocacy of violence and bigotry, as opposed to its graphic depiction," AIJAC head Dr Colin Rubenstein said. He said he hoped that a review of the laws would deal with the serious problem of incitement. The Australian Family Association said the Sheik Feiz decision was just the latest ruling by a "hardened" OFLC detached from community values.


Sex fiends shielded by the government of Victoria

VICTORIA'S justice system is shielding the state's most serious sex offenders, a Sunday Herald Sun investigation has found. Names of sex fiends are often removed from court lists, hampering public and media scrutiny of decisions. Up to $400,000 in taxpayers' funds has been spent by the Justice Department in the past few months, partly to keep secret the names and whereabouts of offenders.

The revelations come as the Bracks Government has ruled out a law -- being tested in Britain -- that enables parents to check if pedophiles are in their neighbourhood. And a survey has found Victorians overwhelmingly want to know if there are sex offenders in their area, while most want pedophiles named.

Under the Justice Department support-system for sex predators, fiends receive legal aid to fight supervision orders and fund bids to keep their identities secret. In some cases, legal teams including $400-an-hour Queen's counsels are being hired to represent sex offenders.

Sex predators considered dangerous are placed under strict supervision orders after their parole has ended. But the Sunday Herald Sun has found those offenders' names are not appearing on court lists. The hearings for the orders -- applying such restrictions as bans on loitering at schools -- are public, but with no listings the victims are unaware of the applications.

The Government yesterday ruled out considering the law being tested in Britain that enables parents to check if pedophiles are in their neighbourhood. A Sunday Herald Sun survey found 74 per cent of Victorians would like to see such a law introduced, while 60 per cent wanted offenders named and subject to full public scrutiny. The survey also found 64 per cent believed it was wrong for courts not to publish the names of sex offenders in court lists.

The groundswell for reform is supported by legal and child abuse experts. Leading Queen's Counsel David Galbally said serial sex offenders had lost the right to privacy because of their repeated crimes. Ballarat University senior research fellow Dr Caroline Taylor, an expert on sexual abuse, said fears that naming offenders would lead to vigilante attacks had proved unfounded in the US. A Justice Department spokeswoman said she could not contact the staff involved in the examples of court list omissions, but that the department would follow up these cases with the judges involved.


Experts' dim view of green light bulb

Hilarious gap found in Greenie reasoning

THE cover story of this month's edition of Silicon Chip magazine is a comprehensive bagging of the Federal Government's plan to replace incandescent light bulbs with more efficient compact fluorescents (CFLs).

As publisher Leo Simpson points out, most domestic lighting use is at night, which means it is "merely using the 'spinning reserve' of our base-loaded power stations. "You could switch all the lights off ... and the base-load power stations would still be spinning away, using just as much coal," he says.

In a six-page analysis, Silicon Chip , the bible for electrical engineers, identifies drawbacks such as the fact that a CFL light bulb "takes about 10 to 15 minutes to achieve full brilliance"; doesn't last long when used for frequent short periods; can't be used with a dimmer switch; and can cause electrical and infra-red interference to the point where "CFLs can completely obliterate [radio] reception in rural areas" - and if you have a "CFL in the same room as your TV or hi-fi system, the infra-red remote control may not work at all". Heed the geeks.


Private care is better for childbirth

PREGNANT women from across the world are lining up to have their babies in an acclaimed Queensland hospital. Mothers-to-be are flocking to Nambour Selangor Private Hospital on the Sunshine Coast, in search of an empowering birthing experience. They have travelled from Hong Kong, Canada, the US and the United Arab Emirates to give birth in the unit. The hospital was also recently visited by a team of maternity experts from Britain, Australia and Brazil, who wanted to learn from the hospital's model of care.

The unit is one of few in Queensland to offer water births, natural twin births, and natural births after previous caesareans. Midwives and obstetricians are matched to mothers and supported throughout their pregnancy, labour and beyond. Midwife Lynne Staff, who founded the maternity unit 10 years ago with obstetrician Ted Weaver, said it was all about giving women what they wanted. "It's bending services to meet the needs of women, rather than bending women to meet the needs of service providers," she said. "We want women to feel strong and positive. It's simple things that make the difference, such as not separating babies from mothers in caesarean births, and giving women the chance to talk about the birth afterwards."

The hospital also offers parents childbirth preparation classes, and women are able to attend workshops to help them prepare for breastfeeding. There are also classes for couples expecting twins, giving them the opportunity to explore birthing options and providing tips on how to manage their new family.

Mrs Staff said she was saddened that other Queensland hospitals didn't provide the same standards. As previously reported in The Sunday Mail, a study reveals one in three mothers is traumatised after giving birth in understaffed and overcrowded [public] hospitals. [Similar figures have been reported for Britain's NHS hospitals]

Mrs Staff said: "Part of the problem is that hospitals don't find out what is important to women. "I think it's very sad that in the 21st century women can't access positive services in hospitals."


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Employers have to be devious to get the sort of employees they want

Not a great way to encourage job-creation -- something the do-gooder airhead excerpted below seems not to realize. The solution to the problem she identifies is for schools to offer less permissive and more prescriptive education -- but we will wait a long time to see that. Schools DID once teach children to speak in a way that would gain maximum social acceptability but now anything goes

Jobseekers are being warned about "social" discrimination in the job market. Executive recruiter Slade Group says social discrimination - which can be based on the way you speak, where you live or where you were educated - is particularly prevalent in entry-level and mid-level roles. Slade managing director Anita Ziemer says social discrimination is often disguised as businesses attempting to find the "right cultural fit". She says examples include employers seeking candidates of specific socio-economic status by targetting people from certain residential areas.

"In one case a client eliminated a high performing financial adviser as a candidate because he dropped the 'youse' word," she says. "In NSW it's illegal to discriminate on the basis of social origin, but ... it is difficult to prove during the job application process."

Recruitment & Consulting Services Association CEO Julie Mills says a good recruiter will refuse to search for a candidate based on socially discriminatory criteria. "This industry would come down on anybody like a tonne of bricks if we found out they were using those sorts of things as their benchmark - clients will try it on ... as long as recruiters don't act on it," she says.

Ziemer says social discrimination relates to perception psychology - a snap judgment based on pre-conceived ideas. "There is a lot of evidence that defines the attributes of top performers in any work setting, yet nowhere does it talk about your suburb, the school you went to, or whether you speak the Queen's English," she says. "Unfortunately there is an unspoken barrier erected by potential employers which is still present ... particularly in law, finance and consulting. "Ironically, social discrimination becomes less prevalent in (senior appointments) because by that time, employers are hiring on proven capabilities."

More here

Education Union deceit

Truth never has mattered to Leftists

THE Australian Education Union has proved once again it is better at political spin than mathematics. In an inflammatory television advertisement designed to shame John Howard over his Government's funding for private schools, the AEU has reignited a black-hearted campaign kicked off by former Opposition leader Mark Latham for the 2004 election. The campaign is as wrong-headed today as it was then. But this should not surprise, coming as it does from AEU federal president Pat Byrne, who has a history when it comes to political intervention. In a speech prepared for a Queensland Teachers Union conference following the last election, Ms Byrne lambasted voters for putting economic issues ahead of compassion in their decision to vote for the Coalition.

For the upcoming election, the union will spend $1.3 million on a television and letter-box campaign in marginal seats accusing the Government of neglecting public education by directing the bulk of commonwealth funding to private schools. The television advertisement shows a class of children at a public school excitedly preparing for a visit by the Prime Minister, only for him to drive straight past without stopping. The voice-over tells viewers that since the Government was elected, the share of funding for public education has decreased to 35 per cent, despite the fact that 70 per cent of Australian children attend public schools.

The campaign mirrors a $1 million advertising blitz by the AEU against the Government at the last election, urging a boost in funding for public schools. But what both union campaigns failed to mention is that public school funding is a state responsibility. The federal government does provide the majority of taxpayer funding for non-government schools, as the state governments do not fund the private sector. But overall, government schools receive a higher level of government funding than private schools. Sixty-seven per cent of students are in government schools that receive 75 per cent of total taxpayer funding. And under the Howard Government's funding formula, which is based on income demographics for the school catchment, the poorest non-government schools can receive a maximum of 70 per cent of the taxpayer funding provided per government school student, with a sliding scale down to a minimum of 13.7 per cent. The AEU campaign conveniently leaves out the fact that commonwealth education funding to government schools has increased by 120 per cent since 1996, while enrolments have risen by 1.1 per cent over that period. And it must be remembered that the state funding for public schools comes largely from commonwealth grants.

That parents are voting with their feet and taking their children away from public schools and putting them into the private sector underscores the danger in anti-government campaigns based on demonising private education as elitist. The reality is that parents who send their children to private schools effectively pay twice: once in taxes for a public system they don't use and again in private school fees. Labor has rightly dumped Mr Latham's failed policies of trying to widen the public-private divide. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd should not thank the AEU for reminding voters about it. All levels of government certainly have their failings on education, but this does not excuse the AEU's shameless political campaign based on a false premise. The Australian strongly supports the public school sector and believes it should be properly funded and offer a rewarding career path for teachers. But a union campaign that attacks the federal Government when its track record on education funding is better than that of the Labor states, which escape criticism, is a bit rich and must be marked a failure.


A free market keeps dental costs down too

DENTISTS have conceded costs in Australia are contributing to an exodus to Thailand and other countries offering dental treatment at half the price. The Australian Dental Association yesterday warned "buyer beware" in the wake of the dental tourism trend. But the ADA said that, apart from anecdotal tales of botched surgery overseas, there was insufficient evidence to advise Australians not to go.

Thailand has long enjoyed a reputation as a cheap holiday destination. It now attracts thousands of Australians who combine a holiday with a cheap trip to the dentist. More than 1.8 million foreigners visited Thailand in 2005 for medical treatment ranging from sex changes to minor cosmetic surgery. The influx, up from 630,000 in 2002, has generated a multi-million-dollar industry.

Bangkok Dental Spa is one of a growing number of specialist dental centres in the Thai capital catering mostly to foreigners. Patients pay $400 to $500 for a new crown, compared with $1500 in Australia. Implant work ranges from $2800 for surgery and a titanium prosthetic, compared with $4000 locally. Bangkok Dental Spa chief executive Lily Porncharoen said she treated hundreds of Australians each year. Treatment in Thailand was cheap with high clinical and professional standards, she said.. "Australia is a very good market for us," Dr Porncharoen said. "It's not too far and they know Thailand well. "What we (Thai dentists) need is our Government to promote us to Australian people so they understand better our standards. I think more and more Australians will come."

With only anecdotal evidence of pitfalls, the ADA's John Matthews said it was hard to challenge Dr Porncharoen's claims. "I don't think we (ADA) have enough evidence to say: don't do it," he said. Thai dentists were cheaper than Australian counterparts because of lower salaries, lower laboratory costs and a "less regulated" environment, he said.

Labor health spokeswoman Nicola Roxon said dental costs under the Howard Government had soared and more than 650,000 people were on public waiting lists for treatment.


Inside a Queensland public hospital

JAYANT Patel was less of a health risk than the hospital that employed him, a new book on the rogue surgeon says. In a compelling account of working with the former Bundaberg Hospital doctor, a surgical ward nurse paints Dr Patel as an often likeable workaholic who over-rated his ability so much he "thought he was God".

The nurse's insights are penned in the book, Dancing With Dr Death, under the assumed name Virginia Kennedy because of concerns that disclosing her identity would jeopardise future job prospects. "Not all the surgery he did was bad," said Kennedy, who has revealed her real identity to The Courier-Mail. "He did a lot of good surgery. He just over-rated his ability. That's what my book is about. It's the good, the bad and the bits in between."

The 208-page account paints Dr Patel as a Jeckyll and Hyde with a scalpel who became known throughout the hospital as a surgeon to avoid. Kennedy says one nurse even used to repeatedly joke he planned to have "Back off, Patel" tattooed on his body.

But despite Dr Patel's faults, the experienced nurse-turned-author is even more scathing about the hospital's administration and management. "I believe that hospital was a disaster waiting to happen before he ever came there," Kennedy said. "He became the catalyst. He became the match that lit the flame."

She tells of "downright dangerous" workloads in a hospital with little infection control. The book reveals Bundaberg Hospital was so obsessed with saving money staff were ordered not to give patients blankets, unless they were requested, to reduce laundry costs. And a man employed as a "bed carboliser", which involves washing down and remaking beds once a patient has died or is discharged from the hospital, was told by management to cut back on his cleaning. The man, named in the book only as Steve, says he was told by management: "If the bed looks clean, I am not to wash them. I only have to make them." Steve later left the hospital to become a builder's labourer.

Kennedy said management frequently pushed patients out the door ahead of their expected length of stay, telling them to handle their own dressings at home. "We commonly saw people returning with infected wounds and even wounds infested with maggots," she writes.


Dangerous Greenie crap

Croc allowed to roam popular picnic spot

A 2m crocodile that has stalked a man is being allowed to roam a popular Cairns picnic spot as authorities continue their months-long debate over whether to remove it. A croc expert has warned children's lives are at risk while the crocodile continues to live at Centenary Lakes in the heart of Cairns, which is also a popular tourist attraction. Authorities have known about the croc for months but yesterday said they were still assessing whether it posed enough of a threat to be removed.

Johnstone River Crocodile Farm owner Mick Tabone said they should act immediately to trap the beast and warned it was big enough to attack a child. "Control it now. If a kid stands in the water or close to the water it could take it," Mr Tabone said. "The smaller ones (crocs) are like teenagers, they`ll have a go at anything. It's going to come to a day when someone gets killed and then they'll start talking about having a big shoot-out."

Cairns Infosite Visitor Centre owner Vince O'Flaherty told The Cairns Post he was "stalked" by the croc last Sunday after he took photos of it at the water's edge. He said the croc turned and started swimming towards him as he walked off as excited tourists rushed over.

Queensland Park and Wildlife crocodile scientist Mark Read said yesterday his team was "assessing" the croc's behaviour and size to determine whether removal was necessary. If it was deemed a risk to public safety it would be harpooned or trapped using chicken bait before being taken from the area. The Cairns Post reported in February that rangers were considering trapping the croc but were forced to wait until the weather cleared. There have been repeated sightings of crocodiles in the lake during the past two years however it is unknown whether there is more than one reptile. Mr Read said it was possible but he could not guarantee the croc was the same beast regularly spotted at Centenary Lakes since late 2004.

The lakes are thought to be provide the reptile with an abundance of food including prawns, fish and turtles. Mr Read said the man-made outdoor drains and creekbeds in Cairns provided an ideal pathway for crocs to move about the city, most probably at night when they were at their most active. Mr Read said he had "no idea" how many crocs were crawling through Cairns but thought numbers were probably low.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Mad Mufti too much even for the Australian Left

LABOR leader Kevin Rudd has urged the federal government to review Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali's Australian citizenship following his latest remarks declaring himself more Australian than Prime Minister John Howard. In an uncharacteristic defence of the prime minister, Mr Rudd blasted the controversial Islamic cleric, saying: "As you know, I'm not a natural supporter of the prime minister, but Mr Howard is as Australian as I am". "The sheik is out there, I think, just seeking crazy publicity, as he seems to do on a daily basis."

The Muslim cleric declared himself "more Aussie than Howard" in an interview with The Australian newspaper, in which he called the prime minister a dictator. "It's a disgrace for the leader of a democratic country to be picking on religious people, especially one who is practising a form of dictatorship that could almost be Saddam Hussein-like," the sheik told the paper. "I respect Australian values more than he does." Earlier this week, Iranian media quoted the mufti as urging Australian Muslims "to stand in the trenches with the Islamic Republic of Iran which possesses the might and the power".

Mr Rudd said the comments bordered on violating Australia's counter-terrorism laws because Iran supports the "global terrorist organisation" Hezbollah.

Federal Industrial Relations Minister Joe Hockey joined Mr Rudd today for their weekly appearance on the Seven Network's Sunrise program. Both Mr Rudd and Mr Hockey called for Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock to review the mufti's Australian citizenship. "My call to Mr Ruddock is to formally review whether or not Australia's counter-terrorism laws are in any way violated by these sorts of statements by the sheik," said Mr Rudd. Mr Hockey said the mufti was using his position to turn Australian Muslims against the non-Muslim community. "Yet again, he's trying to make a headline by saying something outrageous," he said. "But, of course, he's trying to elevate his position to create an 'us-versus-them mentality' in the Islamic community. That won't work. "The great bulk of members of the Islamic community want to get rid of him. "I'm absolutely confident that Philip Ruddock will be looking at every comment made by the mufti," said Mr Hockey.

Meanwhile, Sheik Alhilali's spokesman Keysar Trad has said the mufti's comments were born of frustration. "To make these comments about John Howard, I think, indicates nothing more than the frustration that many people in the (Muslim) community are feeling about the way we were regularly placed in the spotlight," he told Southern Cross Broadcasting.


Free speech under attack by the Australian media regulator

Media Authority on shaky ground with talkback ruling -- says an editorial in "The Australian" below

ALAN Jones can defend himself but there is a big issue of free speech at stake in the Australian Communications and Media Authority's ruling that the Sydney radio shock jock overstepped the mark in broadcasts before the Cronulla riots of December 2005. Jones's listeners are not normally considered to belong to a demographic likely to take to the streets and riot. And the history of Pauline Hanson's rise and demise is that unpopular views are best vented than left suppressed. There are also clear inconsistencies in the ACMA ruling that call into question whether the organisation would be better served with representation from the Press Council or others with more direct experience in broadcasting and publication.

The ACMA ruling follows a report by former NSW assistant police commissioner Norm Hazzard documenting the role played by mobile phones in stirring up the violence. He told NSW parliament that "more than 270,000 text messages (were) transmitted inciting a racially motivated confrontation at North Cronulla Beach on December 11, 2005". Jones read one of the offending missives on air three days before the riot, on December 8. "And the message urges Aussies ... to take revenge against Lebs and Wogs," Jones told his 2GB listeners. "Now, it's got pretty nasty when you start talking like this. It says: 'This Sunday, every Aussie in the Shire get down to North Cronulla to support Leb and Wog bashing day'." Later that morning, Jones corrected a caller who said "there are two sides to everything". "Yeah, let's not get too carried away, Bertha, we don't have Anglo-Saxon kids out there raping women in Western Sydney." Mr Hazzard named the caller, but not Jones, when he detailed this exchange as part of a broader critique of the media's role. Cronulla, he said, "highlight(ed) the caution the media must display when engaging public debate on issues that may lead to civil unrest".

A day earlier, on December 7, Jones read out an email from a listener, "J",who suggested that an invitation be made to "biker gangs to be present at Cronulla railway station when these Lebanese thugs arrive". "The biker gangs have been much maligned but they do a lot of good things - it would be worth the price of admission to watch these cowards scurry back on to the train for the return trip to their lairs".

It may or may not come as a surprise to Mr Hazzard that the broadcasting watchdog did not share his exact concerns with Jones's coverage. In layman's terms, the ACMA said it was OK for Jones to publicise the text message that Mr Hazzard thought contributed to the riot, but not OK to read out the email about the biker gangs. On the former, the ACMA said: "The licensee did not broadcast a program that was likely to incite, encourage, or present, for its own sake, violence or brutality." Jones "did not endorse the text messages", the authority explained. The reason the email from "J" did not elicit similar sympathy from the ACMA was that Jones did not offer any "proximate qualifying statements". Here, it found, Jones's program was "likely to encourage violence or brutality" and "likely to vilify people of Lebanese background and people of Middle Eastern background".

The ACMA also took a dim view of Jones's reference to gang rape a day later. It found his response to caller "B" was "likely to vilify people of Middle Eastern background on the basis of ethnicity". Hold that thought for a moment, and now consider another complaint against Jones that happened to be dismissed by the ACMA. On December 5, six days before the Cronulla riot, Jones referred to the people accused of bashing two lifesavers - the incident that triggered the one-week media storm - as "Middle Eastern grubs". The ACMA said this was OK because Jones had not applied his comment more generally.

We could refer to more inconsistencies in the ACMA judgment delivered on Tuesday. But this is not a defence of Jones's often over-the-top language, or even an attack on the ACMA's logic. The Australian has consistently erred on the side of free speech. The idea that a broadcasting watchdog can determine how heated a shock jock should be strikes us as inherently absurd.


Shocking government medicine in Tasmania

A man with agonising pancreatitis said he was frightened while he waited seven hours overnight in the Royal Hobart Hospital before getting medical attention. Shane Lockley was taken by ambulance to the emergency department and put in a wheelchair with a morphine drip in his arm. Mr Lockley said it was only after he started spitting up blood that he was taken into an emergency cubicle and then only after waiting about another hour. The incident happened on a Sunday night late last month.

"My GP told me if you get symptoms to get to hospital, because this disease is potentially fatal," said Mr Lockley, of Sorell. "I had to beg the ambulance to pick me up, then at hospital they put me in front of a television in a wheelchair. "Not one person checked me. Even if something had happened to me, they wouldn't have known. "I was spitting up blood and went up to the nurse to tell them. The drip ran out and the blood was in the tube. What's going on? "I was badly treated. A doctor walked in and (said:) 'How's your friend, Mr Alcohol,' assuming I was a drinker, but I said: `I don't drink, mate.'"

Mr Lockley, 42, said he had blood tests and was sent home. He said a report was not sent to his GP and they did not check his records. He said he needed to have his gall bladder removed and attacks of pain were becoming more frequent.

Wife Terisa said the ordeal scared the family. "We were just appalled. The doctor gave pretty strict instructions he would have to go to hospital if necessary, because it can be fatal," Mrs Lockley said. RHH chief executive officer Craig White said the care provided to Mr Lockley was appropriate for his clinical circumstances. Dr White said a report was faxed to his GP on the morning he was discharged. Mr Lockley said the doctor did not have the information when he saw him later


Small business backs Howard on jobs

Exemption for small business from "unfair dismissal" laws pays off

SMALL business has backed John Howard's claims that his Work Choices laws are creating jobs after the unemployment rate hit a 32-year low of 4.5 per cent. The support for the Prime Minister came amid more figures showing the fastest jobs growth in the year since the laws were introduced has been in the restaurant and catering industry, a key beneficiary of Work Choices.

Labor, which has vowed to scrap the laws, attributed the creation of 276,000 jobs to the mining boom. But Mr Howard leapt on the figures, saying his decision to make small businesses exempt from unfair dismissal laws had triggered "spectacular" employment growth. "We're now seeing a stronger full-time jobs growth than part-time, and that is being driven by more flexible full-time employment arrangements," he said. "What I do in relation to Work Choices is to constantly point out the benefits and there's no greater human dividend from good economic management than to give people a job."

Although the restaurant and catering industry accounts for less than 5 per cent of the total Australian workforce, ABS figures show it has delivered almost 17 per cent of the new jobs in the past year. John Hart, chief executive of the Restaurant and Catering Association, which represents employers, said the industry had had a great year, with sales up 12.8 per cent. He said the new industrial relations laws gave flexibility to allow jobs growth to match the sales rise. "Without the flexibility brought about by new industrial relations choices, you wouldn't see turnover being converted into jobs," Mr Hart said. He said that before Work Choices, which was introduced in March last year, employer surveys had shown that 63 per cent of businesses hired staff on a part-time or casual basis for fear of unfair dismissal laws.

Mr Howard said that 96 per cent of the jobs created in the past year had been full-time, compared with 61 per cent in the previous year. The March jobs figures, released yesterday, show that part-time jobs are being converted into full-time positions, with 31,000 new full-time jobs created in the month, but 21,000 part-time positions lost.

Kevin Rudd said Mr Howard's claim that the jobs growth was due to Work Choices was absurd. "I think 'pigs might fly' is the response," he said, adding that the jobs growth was a result of the resources boom. "The mining boom, the resources boom, is throwing into the economy some $55 billion a year. "If you look at where most employment growth is occurring, it is occurring in the resource-rich states."

Although Western Australia's unemployment rate dropped below 3 per cent last month for the first time since the early 1970s, reaching 2.7 per cent, there has also been healthy jobs growth in some of the other states. Victoria and NSW have, between them, provided 45 per cent of the jobs growth in the past year. South Australia, with a heavy dependence on manufacturing, has missed out, with virtually no jobs growth. Queensland, which benefits from resources and strong interstate migration, has delivered almost as many jobs as NSW and Victoria combined.

The second-fastest growth industry after restaurants was construction, with new offices, roads and mines driving a 10.8 per cent lift in employment. This would mainly be larger companies, not affected by the exemption from unfair dismissal laws. Retailing, which includes many small businesses, had only 1per cent jobs growth in the year to February. Mr Davies said it was hard to assess what the jobs growth would have been without the industrial relations legislation.

University of Newcastle industrial relations specialist Bill Mitchell said there were no current figures on small business employment, but international studies showed that large businesses increased their workforces more rapidly than smaller firms. Business surveys show that although small businesses have been enthusiastic about the legislation, relatively few have followed up by hiring more workers. The author of the Sensis Small Business survey, Christina Singh, said that although a third of small companies believed government policy was supportive of their business, just 4 per cent said they had taken on additional staff as a result of Work Choices. In the small business sector, a net 1 per cent of businesses increased workforces in the past three months.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Mankind 'can't influence' climate says Australian expert

MANKIND is naive to think it can influence climate change, according to a prize-winning Australian geologist. Solar activity is a greater driver of climate change than man-made carbon dioxide, argues Ian Plimer, Professor of Mining Geology at the University of Adelaide and winner of several notable science prizes. "When meteorologists can change the weather then we can start to think about humans changing climate," Prof Plimer said. "I think we really are a little bit naive to think we can change astronomical and solar processes."

Speaking last night after presenting his theory for the first time, to the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy in Sydney, Prof Plimer said he had researched the history of the sun, solar and supernovae activity and had been able to correlate global climates with solar activity. "But correlations don't mean anything, you really need a causation," Prof Plimer said. So he then examined how cosmic radiation builds up clouds. A very active sun blows away the cosmic radiation, while a less active sun allows radiation to build up, he said. "So you can very much tie in temperature, cloud formation, cosmic radiation and the sun," he said.

The next part of Prof Plimer's research was to examine the sources of carbon dioxide. He said he found that about 0.1 per cent of the atmospheric carbon dioxide was due to human activity and much of the rest due to little-understood geological phenomena.

Prof Plimer also argued El Nino and La Nina were caused by major processes of earthquake activity and volcanic activity in the mid-ocean ridges, rather than any increase in greenhouse gases. Nor does the melting of polar ice have anything to do with man-made carbon dioxide, he said. "Great icebergs come off, not due to temperature change but due to the physics of ice and the flow of ice," Prof Plimer said. "There's a lag, so that if temperature rises, carbon dioxide rises 800 years later. "If ice falls into the ocean in icebergs that's due to processes thousands of years ago."

On the same basis, changes to sea level and temperature are also unrelated to anything happening today, he said. "It is extraordinarily difficult to argue that human-induced carbon dioxide has any effect at all," he said.

Prof Plimer added that as the planet was already at the maximum absorbance of energy of carbon dioxide, any more would have no greater effect. There had even been periods in history with hundreds of times more atmospheric carbon dioxide than now with "no problem", he said.

The professor, a member of the Australian Skeptics, an organisation devoted to debunking pseudo-scientific claims, denied his was a minority view. "You'd be very hard pushed to find a geologist that would differ from my view," he said. He said bad news was more fashionable now than good and that people had an innate tendency to want to be a little frightened. But Prof Plimer conceded the politics of greenhouse gas emissions meant that attention was being given to energy efficiency, which he supported. The professor, who is writing a book on the subject, said he only used validated scientific data, published in reputable peer-reviewed refereed journals, as the basis of his theories.


Alan Jones was right about the rioters

If ever there was an example of how skewed our values have become, it was revealed in radio broadcaster Alan Jones's reprimand. Jones was found guilty of breaching Australia's broadcasting code for these comments from a listener prior to the Cronulla riots in 2005: "It would be worth the price of admission to watch these cowards scurry back on to the train for the return trip to their lairs," he said, a reference to the call-to-arms text messages that were circulating Sydney at the time. "And wouldn't it be brilliant," he also read, "if the whole event was captured on TV cameras and featured on the evening news so that we, their parents, family and friends can see who these bastards are."

Instead of a bollocking, Jones should have been given a standing ovation. His comments were spot on. He was one of the few with the courage to call it for what it was. What got lost in the revisiting of Jones's comments are the circumstances surrounding what happened before the riots, which take on a wholly different complexion if you take religion out of it. Some junior lifesavers patrolling Cronulla the beach got bashed by a group of older men. Rather than just a one-off incident, locals revealed it was the latest in a long line of fights and they were so sick of it, they said, they were going to do something about it. They were going to stand up for their mates. They were going to find the bullies that like to outnumber young kids and square up. Good on them.

Bullies are cowards turned inside out. Ill-equipped to finesse their way through life, they resort to muscle. It is the only currency they understand, but the irony is you only need to chip away a small piece to find the coward inside. Power, you see, bows only to more power. Given this mindset it is appropriate to believe the only language they understood was a good smack in the mouth and maybe that was what was needed to make them think twice about flexing their muscles on the beach again.

But the whole thing got ugly and twisted because racial lines were drawn. The bullies were Muslims, and of Middle Eastern appearance, and instead of the whole issue being treated as a stand against the kind of bullying we all condemn it was turned into a racial issue. Here's where the rioters erred. They failed to distinguish the difference between bullies and Muslims and when they attributed the whole sorry saga to Muslims - a careless point of identification -- all Muslims were naturally affronted.

If they had steered away from the racial stereotypes and explained it for what it was, a square-up against bullies, then they would have got overwhelming public support. Instead they resorted to racial stereotyping and it got ugly, and then it got even worse when they attacked other innocent Middle Eastern men, for no other reason than their ethnicity. But here is also where Muslim leaders erred. They should have clarified the difference. They should have condemned those who attacked the lifesavers and, given the difficulty police have infiltrating youth gangs, helped find them and bring them to justice.

Instead they let racial tensions fester, and cried racism when it spun out of control. For a community allegedly well-mannered, no explanation was ever given for the actions of the hooligans who beat up the lifesavers. If the racial overtones were removed, and the incident played for what it was, it would never have escalated.

By condemning Jones, the broadcasting authority is just perpetuating the racial tensions in Sydney. Muslims can feel justified in what happened, non-Muslims feel resentful. Jones got it right, and the sooner we confront the issues for what they are, and drop the political posturing, the pointscoring in the religion battle, the quicker the road to harmony. Truth is, it would have been good to see these bullies scurry back on the train. It would have been good if their faces had been captured on TV, exposing them for what they were. It shouldn't have mattered whether they were black, white or brindle, Muslim or Christian. Bullies don't deserve sympathy or false outrage to hide behind. They should get what they deserve.

Source The radio station proprietor has also hit out at the injustice of the proceedings. See here

Buckpassing government medicine kills

A DOCTOR told to give anti-seizure medication to a teenage patient with a fractured skull told a Sydney inquest today she did not believe the instruction was too urgent or important. Vanessa Anderson, 16, died at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital in November 2005 after being hit on the head by a golf ball during a tournament. Glebe Coroners' Court has been told Vanessa was not given any anti-convulsant medication before she suffered a seizure and died.

The inquest into her death today heard evidence from Dr Nicole Williams, who had been the neurosurgical senior resident at the hospital for two weeks when Vanessa died on November 8. Dr Williams told the hearing that on November 7, consultant neurosurgeon Nicholas Little had told her to give the patient the anti-convulsant drug Phenytoin. Dr Williams said Dr Little appeared to waver over the decision and she formed the opinion that "we could write some up, but it probably wasn't that urgent and wasn't that important".

After Vanessa's family raised concerns that she could be allergic to Phenytoin, Dr Williams asked a more senior doctor, neurosurgical registrar Azizi Bakar, whether the drug should be administered. Dr Bakar nodded "to acknowledge what I said and made a comment like `it's OK'," she told the court. Dr Williams said she believed Dr Bakar was experienced enough to decide whether Vanessa should be given the drug or an alternative medication. It was the end of her shift and she thought the matter had become Dr Bakar's responsibility, she told the court.

Asked whether she thought she no longer had a role to play regarding the anti-convulsant medication, Dr Williams said: "That's the way I saw it."


Anzac Day 'may offend' says politically correct report

This is an attack on Australia's most hallowed tradition. Anzac day is Australia's national day of commemoration for our war-dead and is treated with great seriousness by young and old -- with commemorative services and parades through the streets of most towns and cities

ANZAC Day commemorations may offend some religious and ethnic minorities, a new report has claimed. The study commissioned by Multicultural Affairs Queensland found some immigrants associated Anzac Day with the "increased nationalism" expressed most graphically at the Cronulla riots in 2005. The report also claimed a "climate of fear" has seized Queensland's Muslim community, which it blamed on federal immigration and anti-terrorist policies and the media. The situation is so dire that some Brisbane Muslims suspect they might be sent to concentration camps, while others live in fear of bomb attacks. Some refugees even told researchers they felt safer in their countries of origin than in Australia.

But RSL state president Doug Formby said they were wrong to associate Anzac Day with racism. "Anzac Day is purely to recognise the deeds of our servicemen and women," Mr Formby said. "No one is forced to attend and no one should take offence at a long-standing tradition in this country."

Dr Mohamad Abdalla, an imam at Brisbane's Kuraby Mosque and head of the Islamic Research Unit at Griffith University, agreed. "Embracing events such as Anzac Day does not contradict Islamic teaching," Dr Abdalla said. "Muslims have joined the Australian armed forces and received medals. Anzac Day events are not factors in inciting hatred. In fact, they can help Muslims and non-Muslims interact positively."

The report, carried out by Victoria's Monash University and the Australian Multicultural Foundation, was based on interviews with 183 people in Queensland and Victoria. Its aim was to assess the impact of events such as the September 11 attacks, Bali bombings and the Darfur crisis on multiculturalism in Australia. The study, which received two grants of $35,000 from Victoria and Queensland, praised Premier Peter Beattie and his Victorian counterpart Steve Bracks for "upholding the principles of multiculturalism".

However, Dr Abdalla was unenthusiastic about some of the suggestions in the report, such as legislation "to prevent the media from inciting violence", compelling schools to teach Islamic history and the scheduling of exams around the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. "It's not sufficient for Muslims to say others have to take action," he said. "The onus is also on them to go out and engage with non-Muslims."


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Fat kids not schools' fault

Anita Quigley has some sharp words for the "obesity" whiners

OF all the middle-class, neurosis-inducing, guilt-ridden topics, the subject of children's eating habits takes the cake - low-fat of course. But it really is very simple: If you are the parent of a fat child and think his or her school canteen is to blame, then you are kidding yourself. Your child is pudgy, plump or obese - thanks to you.

And yesterday's uproar by parents over schools that aren't doing enough to stop students eating junk food - either in the canteen or by ordering in-- is ridiculous. The fact pupils are being delivered pizzas and sell bootlegged Coke at school just shows the ingenuity of today's mobile phone-equipped, pepperoni-craving children. More importantly it also shows that the war on childhood obesity won't be won in the classroom.

Parents are well within their rights to demand more influence over what their children eat at school. However, they also need to be reasonable and meet their end of the bargain. It is impossible to instil a habit of healthy eating if your children go home to soft drinks and takeout for dinner five nights a week. Equally, you may argue that schools providing foods high in fat and sugar undo all the good work done at home. However, School Canteens Association of NSW's Jo Gardner says of school kids aged five to 15, less than 3 per cent of their food consumption comes from the canteen.

Meanwhile, Duncan Irvine, head of Duncan's Catering, which operates canteens in 37 government high schools, says 75 per cent of all food consumed at school is brought in from home. Based on those figures, you cannot blame the school tuckshop for your child's weight problems. But what you can blame it on is what you pack into your children's lunchboxes. You can also blame the parents for the amount of money they give their kids to buy lunch.

Part of being a parent means making school lunches, and nourishing ones at that. Not a peanut butter sandwich every day with a bag of chips thrown in. However, like most parenting issues these days, "time-poor" mums and dads are outsourcing their responsibilities to schools. They demand schools be chiefly responsible for the exercise their children get, all the sex education their children need to know, and the discipline their children aren't getting at home. Now they are demanding that healthy eating be the school's obligation too.

Of course, most are only echoing our political leaders. For every time there is an issue in the community about the failings of young people, politicians want a remedy included in the curriculum. It was therefore refreshing to yesterday hear new Education Minister John Della Bosca say forcing students to eat healthy food is not the responsibility of schools. The pressure on schools today to turn out model citizens is absurd. When is there time anymore for teachers to do the basic teaching of core subjects?

Government and private schools began phasing in healthy food regimens at canteens nearly four years ago, amid rising evidence of a childhood obesity epidemic. This year all sugary soft drinks were banned. But as you can see students are taking alternative measures to acquire fast food.

In Britain, where government-supplied school lunches have just been turned upside-down by super cook Jamie Oliver to be more healthy, parents have been caught throwing junk food over school fences to their children. A friend, Emma, who does canteen duty at her children's primary school on the North Shore, says it is not unusual for pupils to produce $50 and $20 notes to buy their lunch - clearly with no budget attached. "In some cases, it's not even a matter of what they're eating, it's how much," she says. "You will see the same child twice at morning recess and at lunchtime they come back three times."

I appreciate that the older your kids get, when you kiss them goodbye at the school gate you also kiss goodbye to the ability to control their diets. However, it's parents who have a lesson to learn - stop passing the buck.


The strange face of "moderate" Islam

By Andrew Bolt

MAYBE this time, I thought. Maybe this first Australian Islamic Conference would at last show us the moderate Muslim leaders we've searched for. God, we need them. Look at the latest doings of the hate-preachers we have now. Take the Mufti of Australia, Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilali, who has just given interviews in Iran demanding Muslims stand "in the trenches" with its hostage-taking regime, and is now being investigated for allegedly giving $12,000 to a Lebanese propagandist linked to terrorists. Meanwhile, the head of the Lebanese Muslim Association, which pays him to preach at Australia's biggest mosque, has had to seek police protection for suggesting this fool had best shut up.

Yet, even now, the Federation of Islamic Councils, which made Hilali mufti, refuses to sack him, though he's vilified Jews, praised suicide bombers as "heroes", called the September 11 terrorist attacks "God's work against oppressors", excused convicted pack rapist Bilal Skaf and said raped women should be "jailed for life".

The greatest pity is that Hilali isn't the only hate-preacher in our mosques. Other radical sheiks have been accused of telling followers not to pay taxes to this infidel Government. Worse, the Howard Government sidelined its Muslim Community Reference Group after finding a third of the 14 "moderates" it handpicked actually backed the Iranian-backed Hezbollah extremist group, notorious for its terrorist wing. So, after all this and more, we desperately need to hear from those moderate Muslim leaders we keep telling each other must surely exist. Must.

Was it so dumb to think Mercy Mission would at last provide them - Muslim leaders who would demonstrate (in the mission's own words) that they "benefit the communities in which they live"? You may have dared to hope, given this new group's leaders include the highly educated Tawfique Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi-born and Australian-raised IT project manager, and Adel Salman, who so impressed his employers at Cadbury Schweppes that he was selected for the prestigious Asialink leaders program. It was Salman, so polished, who organised for Mercy Mission its first annual Australian Islamic Conference at Melbourne University over the Easter weekend. The odd timing was surely just an innocent coincidence, because the conference had a noble aim: to "present a true picture of 'Islam in action' to the wider community" and convince Australians that "Islamic values are universal values".

So who, among all the Muslims in the world, did Mercy Mission choose to fly in to give us this "true picture" of a moderate Islam? Of the six international speakers it advertised, let me introduce you to two.

The first is Bilal Philips, a Jamaican-born Canadian who was a communist and worker for the Black Panther terrorist group before converting to Islam and becoming a preacher. His message is uncompromising: "Western culture led by the United States is an enemy of Islam." Which makes him an odd choice as speaker at a conference to reassure us that "Islamic values are universal values". But the choice of Philips is even odder given the United States named him as an "unindicted co-conspirator" over the 1993 bombing of New York's World Trade Centre, and our own security agencies judged him such a threat he was banned from coming here. Philips insists he rejects terrorism and considers al-Qaeda a "deviate" group. But from his own website and interviews you'd see why some might not take him at his word. He freely admits he was hired by the Saudi air force during the first Gulf War to preach to American soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia and convert them to Islam. He says he succeeded, and "registered the names and addresses of over 3000 male and female US soldiers".

Philips didn't just take down their names; he also visited them back in America. "My role was confined to encouraging them to train Muslim-American volunteers and go to Bosnia to help the mujahidin and take part in the war (against Serbia)," he boasted. That worked, too. Philips says his name was dragged into the investigation of the first World Trade Centre bombing, in which six people were killed, because some African-American soldiers he'd converted were offered by someone else to Sheik Abdel Rahmen, spiritual head of the terrorists behind the attack. These ex-soldiers would be great for domestic sabotage, the sheik was told.

But Clement Rodney Hampton-El, an al-Qaeda-trained American bombmaker now serving a 35-year sentence for the World Trade Centre bombings, claimed Philips also gave him the names of soldiers who were about to leave the military and who might help the Bosnian jihadists. To repeat: Philips denies any links to al-Qaeda, and swears he is opposed to terrorism, although he does say Muslims are entitled to defend their faith by force. But given his support for jihadists, his past contacts with jailed terrorists and the allegations against him, why on earth did Mercy Mission choose him to preach here?

To invite one such extremist speaker might seem like bad luck, but to invite two might make you think Mercy Mission wouldn't know a moderate Muslim if he blew up in their face. I say that because also high on Mercy Mission's guest list was another convert, British journalist Yvonne Ridley, with a much nastier line in preaching. Ridley didn't just marry a colonel in one terror group - Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organisation - but has been busy since defending others like it. Some highlights: Soon after the September 11 terrorist attacks Ridley actually accused Islamic sheiks of going soft. "Muslims have lost confidence since September 11," she complained. "Something as simple as suicide bombers being martyrs is being denied by prominent sheiks."

That's one of her mantras. At a Belfast meeting of Islamic students, she insisted there were no innocent Israeli victims in suicide bombings. Not even children. "There are no innocents in this war," she reportedly raged, because Israeli children could grow up to become Israeli soldiers. She even hailed as a "martyr" the Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev, who planned the attack on the Beslan school in which 333 hostages - many of them children - were killed. An "admirable struggle", she called his life's work. Ridley has never called on Muslims to boycott such terrorists, but instead demanded British Muslims "boycott the police and refuse to co-operate with them in any way, shape or form".

And when relatives of al-Qaeda's then leader in Iraq, the head-hacker Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, denounced his bomb attacks on three hotels in Jordan, she was livid. "While the killing of innocent people is to be condemned without question, there is something rather repugnant about some of those who rush to renounce acts of terrorism," she sneered. True, among the 61 dead were many members of a wedding party, she conceded, but some of them "were part of Jordan's upper echelons of society", and "others had flown in from America". What's more, the "bars (were) serving alcohol", and the evil Jordanian regime "provides backing, support and intelligence to the American military". Having proved to her satisfaction the guilt of the dead civilians, she asked: "I wonder if you see that attack on the Jordanian hotels in a different light now?" And she concluded: "I'd rather put up with a brother like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi any day than have a traitor or a sell-out for a father, son or grandfather."

What, in Ridley's foul incantations of hatred and her defence of child-killers and wedding bombers, makes her the kind of Muslim who would "benefit the communities in which they live"? What does it say about Mercy Mission that Ridley - and Philips - were hired as speakers to tell us "Islamic values are universal values" and we have nothing to fear?

Oh, and about that fear. It was this same Ridley - happy to "put up with a brother" like Zarqawi, once filmed cutting off the head of American hostage Nick Berg - who last week accused Australians of being among the worst haters of Muslims. How like her to condemn the fear her own words rightly provoke. And how disturbing that Mercy Mission holds her up as the kind of Muslim who does us good. Or - I hesitate to ask - is this really the best our Muslim leaders can offer? Is this really their "true picture" of Islam? I beg of them. Prove it isn't. Until you do, I'm afraid I shall take you at your grim word.


Arrogant government ambulance service

The Victorian ambulance service has been the target of frequent complaints but, despite government huffing and puffing, it never seems to improve

PARAMEDICS have been accused of refusing to take a woman with a life-threatening brain aneurism to hospital because they believed she was drug-affected. The Metropolitan Ambulance Service is now examining a number of allegations that seriously ill patients have been refused transport. Premier Steve Bracks has called for an investigation. Others complaints involve a teenager with bile leaking behind her liver, a man with a burst stomach ulcer and a cancer patient who died. The MAS said human error or a failure to follow proper processes were probably the cause of any problems.

On November 26 last year, a 6mm aneurism burst in the front of Greensborough mother Melinda Fort's brain. Paramedics allegedly diagnosed her as drug-affected and refused to transport her. Her terrified 14-year-old daughter called a second ambulance five hours later. Ms Fort spent five weeks in intensive care. "All I want is those two drivers to come to my house, look me in the eye and apologise," Ms Fort said. "Even if I was a druggie I still wasn't well, so why wasn't I taken?"

Jade Olsen, 18, of Wantirna said she was denied an ambulance last Saturday when a paramedic told her by phone that the pain she was suffering after a gall bladder operation was not life-threatening. Her mother drove her to Knox Private Hospital, where she had emergency surgery to remove 500ml of toxic bile that had leaked behind her liver. "I'm pretty angry about it. It could have been somebody else with a much more serious matter that could have led to death," Ms Olsen said.

On March 20, Greta Galley called an ambulance for her terminally ill husband John, 72. But she said she was told his pain had to be assessed by a triage nurse first. She drove him to Frankston Hospital, where he died five days later. "It's not as if you call an ambulance for nothing," she said.

Mr Bracks urged the MAS to examine the cases, saying its resources were adequate. "If there are instances where triaging has not worked effectively . . . that will be investigated, and I have urged the MAS to (do so)," he said. MAS general manager of operations Keith Young said an investigation of Ms Olsen's complaint had begun and the others would be examined. "We certainly take these matters seriously. . . but . . . we receive a very small number of complaints. Many times, it is often a misunderstanding or not substantiated," he said.

Liberal health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said she'd be shocked if paramedics were trying to perform triage by phone rather than in person


Conservative radio host hits out at unjudicial regulator

Complaints a setup by an antagonistic public broadcaster -- one well-known for Leftist bias

SYDNEY radio personality Alan Jones has blasted the radio regulator over a ruling that comments made on his program incited violence and vilified people of Middle Eastern descent. Jones went on the offensive today during his program on 2GB Radio, saying findings by the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) were biased and based on complaints of people who do not listen to his show.

ACMA said Harbour Broadcasting Pty Ltd, licensee of commercial Sydney radio station 2GB, had twice breached Australia's broadcasting code in the days before the December 2005 Cronulla race riot. The regulator found the Commercial Radio Code of Practice 2004 was breached by comments aired on Jones' top-rating breakfast program during December 5 and 9, 2005. Those comments contravened the code by being "likely to encourage violence or brutality" and "likely to vilify people of Lebanese background and of Middle Eastern background on the basis of their ethnicity."

But Jones attacked ACMA, saying it had "little radio experience or knowledge of talkback radio" and said he had never incited violence on his program. "Anyone who knows me knows I've never encouraged violence or brutality in anything ... and I did the exact opposite but our defences counted for nothing." One excerpt Jones read from a listener on December 7 recommended that bikie gangs confront "Lebanese thugs" at the Cronulla railway station. Jones today played another excerpt from around the same time telling a listener not to promote the riot, which eventually ensued on December 11. "On countless occasions ... I had as I have regularly on this program opposed violence and brutality and urged people to allow the law to take its course," he said today.

He said the people who made the original complaints only heard excerpts aired by an ABC broadcast, which also provided information to its listeners on how make a complaint to ACMA. "The people who complained to ACMA had not heard any of my program," he said. "If people don't listen to the program all the time, why then are 26 seconds of comment that I might have made, chosen to hang me. They can't have their argument both ways. "This outfit which regulate radio ... if that doesn't constitute bias I don't know what does."

ACMA will be writing to Harbour Radio shortly about the action it may take against the broadcaster. Compliance measures could range from suspending or cancelling 2GB's licence to lesser penalties including fines and requiring staff to attend compliance training programs.

Jones called ACMA's report false and said the regulator disregarded 2GB's defence, which was considered in ACMA's ruling. "To be charged with all of this is just unbelievable, especially when you've mounted the defences, and these were our defences, and at the end of the day, they didn't want to know about the defences," Jones said. He also condemned the process, saying he was unable to read the excerpts from his program that led to ACMA's decision. "Because of the charge laid against me, I'm unable to read you those pieces," he said. "This is like parliamentary privilege. They can say what they like about me. Can I sue them for defamation? - no, no, no. "This is very serious stuff - it's only serious because it's untrue, that's why it's serious and bordering on the dishonest."


NOTE: The article above is as originally published. It has subsequently been altered to record a defence of Jones by the Prime Minister

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Your bureaucrats will protect you -- again

A PURPORTED doctor working in a Queensland regional hospital will be sacked by health authorities after investigations found she was not medically qualified. Another person from the same intake of foreign workers has already been dismissed for failing to properly understand English. The credentials and background of the two were not checked by hospital or regulatory managers before they were employed, stunning the Queensland Medical Board and senior Queensland Health officials 18 months after the devastating scandal over foreign-trained surgeon Jayant Patel.

The two wore stethoscopes, conducted physical examinations and were held out to patients as doctors. Their work was meant to have been as observers under full-time supervision, but sources say this was not always the case because of busy periods and a shortage of staff.

One of the employees, who remains suspended from Cairns Base Hospital pending the exhaustion of rights of appeal, had used a public health qualification from a Shanghai college to pass herself off as a clinically trained junior doctor in her final year of training. She was paid more than $1200 a week as a doctor intern and student observer, watching and dealing with patients over several months, until March. The woman could not demonstrate knowledge of medical or clinical care, sources told The Australian yesterday.

The other employee hired during the Beattie Government's continuing campaign to overcome a chronic medical manpower shortage is believed to have had clinical training, but could not communicate in English to an acceptable standard.

Their status was discovered after a reminder was sent to hospital bosses to ensure staff were properly vetted and registered. The hospital's deputy director of medical services, Ric Streathfield, has admitted he "dropped the ball" when he bypassed the medical board to employ the two on salaries of more than $61,000 a year.

A Queensland Health spokesman said they had performed no procedures and had limited contact with patients. "At no time were any patients in danger," he said. "Their employment is a localised human resources matter, not a clinical matter, and the fact it has been dealt with shows the processes of Queensland Health and the medical board are working."

The two, who worked for several months until it was realised they had not been vetted by the medical board, were employed along with two other foreign interns, one of whom remains on suspension pending further clarification of credentials. The fourth has been registered. "These characters were not let loose to do brain surgery, but they were medically examining people even though at least one had no medical training," a government source told The Australian yesterday. "The slippage of standards and the failure of checks and balances that allowed this to happen so soon after a major public inquiry into the health system is worrying. It amounts to a neglect of medical administrative duties and it has directly impacted on patients."

The Beattie Government promised a $9.7 billion funding boost and a new era of openness and transparency in the aftermath of the public inquiries arising from the damage wreaked by Indian- and US-trained surgeon Dr Patel. His deadly incompetence in the US had resulted in Dr Patel being barred from performing surgery, but neither the Medical Board nor Queensland Health checked his background before he became Bundaberg Hospital's director of surgery. Dr Patel is to be extradited from his US home in Portland, Oregon, to Queensland to face multiple charges of manslaughter, grievous bodily harm and fraud arising from his two years at Bundaberg Hospital.


"Human Rights" stupidity

In another outstanding victory for the civil rights lobby, two HIV-positive men in Victoria and South Australia were permitted to run wild by health officials, passing on their infection to as many sexual partners as they could, because their right to privacy was deemed paramount. What is apparent from the court appearances of both men is that senior health authorities in Victoria and SA made a value judgment between the lethal activities of their clients and the risk they posed to the community and appear to have preferred to protect the men's privacy even though their behaviour risked the health of their sexual conquests, possibly numbering more than 100.

Although a psychiatrist who examined Michael Neal, the Melbourne man accused of deliberately spreading HIV, warned the Victorian Department of Human Services three years ago Neal was the "most evil man I have seen in 20 years" who "enjoys infecting men with HIV", police were not notified. Neal was committed on March 29 to stand trial on 106 charges including intentionally spreading HIV, attempting to intentionally spread a very serious disease, rape and child pornography. He reserved his plea.

During his committal hearing, Melbourne Magistrates Court was told the health department had been contacted nine times in four years by doctors and concerned gay men who alleged the 48-year-old was intent on "breeding" the deadly disease. But even though Neal had told the DHS during his first meeting with its officers that he was having unprotected sex with many men and only sometimes disclosed his HIV status, police were not notified of the case until February last year.

Neal, who wore a genital attachment knowing it would cause bleeding during intercourse, increasing the chances of HIV transmission, told nurses his sex life was his own and he had no intention of following their orders to stop having unprotected sex. According to a witness at Neal's committal hearing, Neal hosted a "conversion party" at which a 15-year-old boy was injected with methamphetamine and "bred" (infected with HIV) by about 15 HIV-positive men who had sex with him.

Instead of notifying police of his activities, the health officers went through a four-stage process with Neal, first offering him counselling, education and support, then referring the allegations against him to an internal HIV advisory panel, then issuing a letter of warning and finally issuing orders that restricted Neal's sexual behaviour and required him to make contact with a department officer each day. When Neal was told he must either disclose his HIV status to his partners or wear a condom, Neal demanded the department pay for Viagra "due to his erectile dysfunction when using condoms", the court was told.

The matter was referred to Melbourne's sexual crimes squad in February last year although a full year earlier a former partner had told authorities Neal was boasting of infecting people with HIV and claimed to have infected "approximately 75 people and remained in a relationship with them until they tested positive". Even then, health officials refused to hand over files to the police and they had to subpoena medical notes and compel the doctors to give evidence against Neal in court.

In the South Australian case, health officials were warned two years go that Stuart McDonald was knowingly spreading HIV. McDonald may have deliberately infected as many as a dozen men with the disease since moving to Adelaide about eight years ago but it was not until last month that he was ordered to take a psychiatric examination and stop having unprotected sex and advertising for sex on the internet.

While doctor-patient confidentiality must be protected, it should not take precedence over the greater public good. This is where the civil rights lobby loses the plot every time - from defending the right of alleged terrorists to have protected communications, to the right of indigenous men to brutalise women and children in the name of traditional culture. In living memory, sufferers of infectious diseases such as typhoid, yellow fever and tuberculosis have been quarantined to reduce the risk of infection to the wider community. Past generations protected themselves against infection by taking the appropriate precautions available at the time - our generation must do the same.


We should be so ethical

QUEENSLAND shillyshallied for ages before finally charging a police officer with the manslaughter of a drunken Aboriginal man on Palm Island. Now the state's bouncers have been urged to aspire to the ethics of the police force. In the run-up to the introduction of new laws aimed at ridding the state's security industry of brutish behaviour, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said it was essential bouncers followed the example set by police officers.

"One of the things bouncers have got to learn is the ethics that exists in the police service," Beattie told reporters in Brisbane yesterday. "The police service has very extensive powers and they are well equipped, but they're well trained. If we've got our police service that know how to use force within appropriate bounds to protect the community well, we are not going to allow bouncers to get outside the same bounds."


"Healthy" school menus help Maccas most of all

Pity about the parents trying to raise funds via heavily regulated tuckshops

HEALTHY canteen menus forced on to NSW schools to fight obesity are being openly snubbed as students order in pizzas, sell bootlegged Coke and leave school grounds to eat at fast-food outlets. A Daily Telegraph investigation has revealed students are resisting the low-fat menus - and private canteen operators are battling to survive with higher labour and ingredient costs. Canteen bosses estimate their revenue is dropping by up to a third as students take their business elsewhere.

Pizza, Chinese takeaway and other fast-food deliveries to school playgrounds are becoming commonplace as students tire of salads, wraps and low-fat pies and diet soft drinks to order in lunch on their mobile phones.

Last Wednesday at Granville South High School at 1pm a pizza delivery man was photographed in action outside the front footpath preparing to make a delivery of two family-sized pizzas. Nearby Villawood Domino's Pizza manager Mohammed Ahsan said his business did make deliveries to Granville South and other schools in the area. "We have a policy not to refuse a delivery to anyone," Mr Ahsan said.

Government and most private schools began phasing in the NSW Healthy School Canteen Strategy in 2003 following a childhood obesity summit. Last year alone more than $600,000 was spent implementing and promoting the scheme to convince schools to speed up compliance. This year all sugar soft drinks were banned. Under the dietary guidelines, "red" foods such as salty snacks and fatty foods are limited to two days per school term. Canteens are supposed to fill the menu with "green" foods such as wraps. "Amber" foods like low-fat pies should be used sparingly.

Also at 1pm last Wednesday, Engadine High students in uniform were dining out at Engadine McDonald's. The senior students, who were happy to be photographed, were not breaking school rules by being there. They said canteen food was "expensive" and not always appetising.

Duncan's Catering boss Duncan Irvine, operator of 38 public high school canteens, said the healthy foods policy was "naive". "The most profitable business to own now is a corner store near a school - they are now getting all our business," he said.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mufti urges Muslims to back Iran

AUSTRALIA'S most senior Islamic cleric, Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilali, called on the Muslim world to unite behind the radical Iranian regime and to serve in its "trenches" in comments published during a visit to Tehran last weekend. As Iran was involved in a standoff with Western powers over the detention of 15 British naval personnel seized after they were accused of trespassing in its waters last month, the Iranian media were using Sheik Hilali's quotes in a propaganda drive. The controversial Australian mufti was quoted as saying that the global Islamic nation would never "kneel" to its enemies. In reports published in Iran on Saturday, Sheik Hilali was quoted as saying that Muslims needed to overcome their sectarian divisions that have led to much "bloodletting" in Iraq.

Leaders in Australia's Muslim community have attacked the Egyptian-born cleric over his reported comments and said he had no authority to speak on their behalf. The comments will increase the pressure on the mufti, who caused a national furore last year when he compared scantily clad women with uncovered meat. He is under police investigation over allegations he passed money raised by members of the Muslim community in Australia to supporters of al-Qaeda and Hezbollah's terrorist arm during a visit to Lebanon last year.

The Australian revealed last week the Sydney-based Lebanese Muslim Association had raised $70,000 in conjunction with other Islamic bodies following the Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon. The money was earmarked for war victims.

The weekend reports of Sheik Hilali praising Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hardline Islamic regime follow his outburst on Egyptian television in January when he described Westerners as "the biggest liars". "Anglo-Saxons came to Australia in chains, while we (Muslims) paid our way and come in freedom. We are more Australian than them," he told Egyptian television.

In Tehran, the mufti was billed as a celebrity by the Islamic Republic's newsagency. "The mufti of Australia has called on the Islamic world to stand in the trenches with the Islamic Republic of Iran which possesses the might and power," Iran's al-Alam News reported on its website in Arabic on Saturday. The Australian understands that Sheik Hilali remained in Iran yesterday but will soon travel to Turkey to attend another Islamic conference.

Prominent Sydney-based imam Khalil Shami said Sheik Hilali was further damaging the image of local Muslims by wrongly expressing their commitment to the "radical" Iranian regime. "As an Australian Muslim, it's very worrying to me that he's speaking on (our) behalf," he said. "Because really, the Iranian people don't know that we're not behind Hilali. And if you ask Sunni Muslims, you will find that 99 per cent are not with Iran. So this hurts us and worries us."

Another Islamic leader, Mustapha Kara-Ali, a former member of John Howard's Muslim Community Reference Group, warned that Sheik Hilali's support for Iran would be potentially used by extremists in Sydney to recruit alienated young Muslims. "Hilali's new (declaration) will play into the hands of underground extremists in Sydney's southwest who will use this edict as ammunition to further recruit disenfranchised Muslim youth."

Sheik Hilali's position remains under a cloud, with a significant section of the Australian Muslim community wanting him deposed. But the new president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Ikebal Patel, dismissed reports that Sheik Hilali had been sacked as mufti. "No, we haven't sacked the mufti... (Sheik Hilali) is still the mufti," he said. "The position of mufti itself is very much there and the... incumbent, while not being paid for the position, is still the holder of the position." The federation said it was up to the Australian National Imams Council to decide the fate of the mufti, with a decision expected by the end of June.


A Catholic organization not allowed to be Catholic?

THE ruling Catholic leadership of the St Vincent de Paul Society faces trial over alleged religious discrimination after telling one of its leaders to convert or resign as an office-holder. The welfare organisation, founded in Paris in 1833, may be forced to change its constitution in Australia because of the looming case in Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Tribunal, brought by former volunteer and local area president Linda Walsh, a Presbyterian.

Ms Walsh was a leading light in the organisation for more than six years, working full-time - as one of the 5000 non-Catholics in the society's 8000-strong volunteer force in Queensland - with refugees and migrants, and holding the elected position of president of three local conferences, or area groups, in Brisbane. But in 2004, despite being previously open about her religious status, the State Council of the society allegedly informed her that her "non-Catholic" status had become a "point of contention for some members" of the organisation. Ms Walsh said she was then advised she had three options: to become a Catholic, resign her elected position and remain with the society only as a member, or leave the society.

She has not worked with the organisation since. Instead, the mother of four launched legal action against the society, seeking financial damages for pain and suffering, and changes to the worldwide constitution banning non-Catholics from leadership positions except in extreme cases. The society last week lost its bid to have the action thrown out on the grounds it was "frivolous and trivial" and that the ban is exempt from Australia's anti-discrimination laws because it constituted a "genuine occupational requirement".

In its plea to the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal, the society said a worldwide review of its constitution in 2003 had stated that the "Catholic beliefs and ethos" of the organisation must be preserved. The society's state president, John Campbell, said the organisation welcomed volunteers and staff from "all walks of life" and that assistance was provided to anyone in need. "But presidents, vice-presidents and spiritual advisers must be Catholic to maintain the ethos of the society," he said. "The society is an international Catholic organisation that consists of many people who volunteer their time to do good works. Some do this to deepen their Catholic faith in a practical way, while others simply want to make a real difference in their community."

Ms Walsh's solicitor, Rob Stevenson of Nathan Lawyers, said there was no reason why his client should be excluded from leadership positions with St Vincent de Paul. "She was working full-time for the society, doing good work and holding significant positions," he said. "It was no secret she was not a Catholic - she had made it known when she began volunteering and before she was elected to these positions, and no one objected."


Cop facilitated antisemitic assault

THE OPI [Police watchdog] believes an off-duty police officer could have helped prevent the alleged racial and physical abuse of a Jewish man by a group of footballers. Sen-Constable Terry Moore was driving the busload of Ocean Grove footballers home from Caulfield races when they allegedly yelled insults at Menachem Vorchheimer. Mr Vorchheimer claims he was also assaulted.

In a letter to Mr Vorchheimer, Office of Police Integrity assistant director John Nolan says: "In my view, Sen-Constable Moore failed to exercise sufficient control and influence over the offending passengers in the mini-bus. "Had he done so, the conflict may have been prevented." Sen-Constable Moore is also likely to be disciplined for engaging in paid secondary employment without police approval.

Mr Vorchheimer was walking in Caulfield with his children, aged 3 and 6, in October when players yelled abuse from the bus. Mr Vorchheimer said he approached to voice his concern. As the bus drove away a player stole Mr Vorchheimer's traditional Jewish hat and skull cap. When he tried to get them back he was allegedly punched in the face. He said he then had to sit in front of the bus to prevent it being driven away before police arrived.

The OPI has offered Mr Vorchheimer mediation with Sen-Constable Moore, who could not be contacted for comment. Three footballers face criminal charges.


A nice bit of history

THE world has changed beyond belief since Phil Munday's "Humpy" Holden first hit the road. There were no spacecraft, no mobile telephones, no faxes and not even a sniff of the internet when his 48-215 Holden was first registered in December 1948. The car world knew nothing of seat belts or airbags. It did not dream of anti-skid brakes or electronic traction control.

Mr Munday's car, still bearing its original registration number, LN 396, is recognised by GM Holden as the longest continually registered representative of the breed still running in Australia. It lives with Mr Munday as part of a giant collection of more than 40 classic Holdens at his home in Wonga Park, but has covered only 92,000km since it rolled off the Adelaide assembly line in September 1948. Its body is badged as No 19 and GM Holden says it is the third-oldest car on its books, behind the original 1947 Holden prototype, which inhabits the National Museum in Canberra, and the company's own No 1 housed at head office in Fishermans Bend.

Mr Munday's 48-215, also known as an FX, was originally owned by the Coxon Holden dealership in Casterton and had been kept in Mount Gambier until he bought it at Christmas. "Since the dealer at Casterton never sold it on and kept it in the family, it's probably the oldest demonstrator in the world -- 59 years, no less," Mr Munday said yesterday.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Paracetamol causes liver damage

Aspirin used to be the first-choice analgesic but it tends to promote bleeding so paracetamol became the new religion. I wonder what the next religion will be now? That any drug that does anything also has side effects is a REAL "inconvenient truth". I have always stuck with aspirin, myself. Its ratio of benefit to risk is huge

PARACETAMOL, the drug commonly found in headache tablets, has surpassed hepatitis and alcohol to become the most common cause of liver failure in Australia. Doctors are being urged to exercise caution when prescribing paracetamol following cases of patients suffering accidental poisoning after taking only the recommended dose of the painkiller, often sold under the brand Panadol.

A report published in The Medical Journal of Australia found people who didn't eat enough, drank a lot of alcohol or took certain medications were vulnerable to toxic effects from paracetamol. Elderly people with kidney or heart and lung problems may also be at increased risk. "Accidental paracetamol poisoning should be suspected in any patient with acute liver failure," the report said. "Clinicians should be cautious about prescribing regular doses of paracetamol for pain control in malnourished or fasting patients, and need to counsel patients who are regular users of the drug." Healthy people are usually able to metabolise paracetamol, most of which is excreted from the body in urine. But the drug can accumulate in people with risk factors, rendering even a normal dose toxic.

The Accidental Paracetamol Poisoning report, compiled by experts from Austin Health in Victoria, describes the case of a 45-year-old Australian woman who died from liver failure. She was taking paracetamol for abdominal pain after having a hysterectomy and suffering complications. Her eating had been poor because of pain, vomiting and treatment. "The patient ... was noted to be displaying odd behaviour," the record states. "The following morning she became increasingly confused and drowsy. "She was admitted to the intensive-care unit, where her conscious state deteriorated rapidly and she required intubation." The woman was transferred to a liver transplant unit but died before a donor organ became available. A post-mortem examination found a toxic level of paracetamol in her body.

Hepatitis and alcoholism is another major cause of acute liver failure. Parents are warned not to give children painkillers unless they have high fever or severe pain. Dr David Thomas, pediatric spokesman for the Australian Medical Association, said: "Paracetamol and ibuprofen are drugs - they aren't without risks or side-effects


Victorian policing getting as hopeless as Britain's

ALMOST half of Victorians convicted of serious crimes escape jail, an audit of sentencing shows. The "soft approach" is underscored by Victorian courts jailing far fewer criminals than the national average... Crime Victims Support Association spokesman Noel McNamara said the leniency displayed by Victoria's judges was an insult to the community. "Victoria is the justice joke of the nation. If you are a criminal you would want to come to Victoria." People Against Lenient Sentences president Steve Medcraft said the figures showed criminals had good odds of avoiding prison. "Crime does pay in Victoria. The legal system is weighted in favour of criminals," he said.

Police chiefs and the Government are also facing scrutiny over a curious force statement on resourcing trends. The website states: "Since Victoria Police first began providing police services in 1853, its role has expanded from one focused primarily on law enforcement, to one of community assistance, guidance and leadership. "Only about 20 per cent of police work is directly related to fighting crime."

Opposition scrutiny of government spokesman Murray Thompson said the statement represented "an extraordinary admission". "Maybe some piccolo players from the police band could change their tune and start catching crooks," he said. Police Association secretary Paul Mullett said at least 80 per cent of policing work should involve fighting crime. "Police are not out there preventing street crime from occurring," he said. "Patrolling is not happening. It is not an issue of police numbers, it is where and how they are deployed." He said too much time was now spent preparing data, filling in forms and meeting increasingly convoluted demands relating to briefs of evidence. "Some general duties police are becoming little more than data entry clerks," Mr Mullett said. The association said extended leave, secondments to external agencies and policy development roles could also be impacting on numbers of police on the beat.

A State Government spokesman said greater restrictions on judges handing out suspended sentences had been bought into force after law changes last year. "When offenders are sentenced to jail for serious crimes they will go to jail unless there are exceptional circumstances," the spokesman said. He said the issue of how police were deployed was an operational matter for the force.

Asked about the website statement, a Victoria Police spokeswoman said: "A large part of our role includes targeting community needs such as road safety, promoting and maintaining harmonious relationships within Victoria's diverse community, identifying crime and safety issues and establishing effective solutions. "Victoria Police also strives to continually improve our forensic services."


Another stupid birthday cake ban

Why not ban milk? It is highly calorific. No-one even THINKS of offering any evidence that the cake ban will make anyone slimmer, of course. Who needs evidence when you KNOW?

[NSW] schools are banning students from bringing birthday cakes to class in an effort to curb unhealthy eating habits. They say the no-cake policy will also help reduce the risk of allergic reactions among students, such as the potentially fatal anaphylaxis that can be triggered by peanuts. The move follows a crackdown on junk food in most school canteens that has involved a ban on items such as chips and soft drinks.

Cranbrook School's junior school is among the first to ask pupils not to bring birthday cakes, also requesting that parents do not send in other types of celebratory treats. Its new "nutritious food and beverage" policy also encourages parents to provide healthy school lunches and covers food eaten while on school camps and excursions. Pupils are discouraged from bringing sports or carbonated drinks. The junior school's latest newsletter to parents says: "There are many other enjoyable ways for the boys to celebrate their friends' birthdays at school and we will be exploring these instead. The boys can always enjoy a birthday cake with family and friends outside of school time." Junior school head Michael Dunn said the policy would come into effect at the start of the new term. He said that, as well as being health-conscious, the policy showed respect for children with allergies. Some Sydney preschools have already introduced a strict no-cake policy, as well as lunch-box inspections, to ensure children do not eat junk food during the day.

"This could be something that is going to become bigger," NSW Parents and Citizens Federation president Di Giblin said. "If you have got 30 children, you have got 30 birthday cakes coming through. "We have got to acknowledge that it's a treat, and part of healthy eating is a balance and choice, so while we understand it is a celebration, we can do it in a way that is healthy."

Tina Jackson said an all-out ban on birthday cakes at school seemed too strong. At Mosman Public, attended by her year 2 daughter Angelica, pupils can bring cakes but smaller-sized treats are recommended. "The school does prefer that you give cupcakes," Ms Jackson, executive director of the National Trust of Australia, said. "The kids so enjoy having the cupcakes and it makes the day really special. A ban does seem a bit harsh." She said there had been efforts to ensure the school canteen offered healthy options.


Labor using old maps to chart new territory

Developing a national curriculum has become the Lasseter's Reef of education, says Kevin Donnelly. Lasseter's Reef is a legendary "lost" Australian gold mine that many have tried to find -- but none have. Donnelly fears that a national syllabus may be a dumbed-down one

Next week's meeting of Australian education ministers, under the auspices of the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, has much to consider. Issues include performance pay for teachers, national benchmark testing and implementing a national curriculum. The proposal to introduce a national curriculum is especially contentious and politically sensitive.

The ALP has taken the lead on the issue with the publication of a document outlining its plan to establish a national curriculum and to improve our children's educational outcomes. Apart from suggesting that the states may be forced to implement a national curriculum by linking it to federal funding, the Coalition has yet to detail its plans.

Superficially, the idea of a national curriculum, as with a unified railway system or a common approach to Australia's environmental problems, seems worthwhile. But, judging from past experience, mandating what all Australian schools should teach and how it is measured and assessed - what in the US are called content and performance standards - is fraught with problems.

The idea of developing a national curriculum has become the Lasseter's Reef of Australian education. Beginning in 1980 with the publication of Core Curriculum for Australian Schools, continuing with the Keating government's national statements and profiles and, most recently, embodied in what are termed "statements of learning", millions of dollars and thousands of hours have been wasted in the search for a curriculum that can be used by all schools.

Although the 1980 core curriculum document had little, if any, effect on schools and it is too early to judge the effectiveness of the statements of learning, the substandard state of Australian education can be traced to the influence of the outcomes-based education-inspired national statements and profiles developed during the early 1990s.

Failed experiments such as Tasmania's Essential Learnings, Western Australia's attempt to introduce outcomes-based education into years 11 and 12, and fads such as whole language, fuzzy maths and a feel-good assessment system where everyone wins, are all children of the Keating government's national curriculum plan. Imagine the consequences if next week's MCEETYA meeting agrees to impose an outcomes-based education-inspired, politically correct curriculum on Australian schools, government and non-government, and all teachers, as a requirement for promotion, have to acquiesce to a second-rate, government-mandated curriculum.

Such an outcome is more than likely if the Kevin Rudd-Stephen Smith model is adopted because the federal ALP, if elected, has promised to give the Curriculum Corporation and the Australian Council for Educational Research key roles in developing a national curriculum; two organisations responsible for the present mess.

There is an alternative to a centrally imposed curriculum. The first step is for the federal Government to establish a body to evaluate and rank state and territory curriculum documents against one another and international best practice. This is the case in the US, where groups such as the American Federation of Teachers and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute evaluate state-based curriculum documents on an annual basis.

In contrast to Australia's approach, with its politically correct orientation and promotion of progressive shibboleths such as constructivism and developmentalism, the US approach is premised on the conviction that curriculums must be concise and teacher-friendly, related to year levels, internationally benchmarked and based on the academic disciplines. For too long curriculums in Australia have been the preserve of an educational cabal more concerned with promoting its own remedies, however misguided, and excluding the public, and the media, from debate. The second step is for the federal Government to develop syllabuses in key subjects across all year levels, including years 11 and 12.

Such intended curriculum documents would be unashamedly elitist - based on the assumption that not everyone is suited to a university education - and academic, given the consensus that generic skills and competencies are best taught within the context of the established disciplines. Instead of being centrally developed, far from the realities of the classroom, such a national curriculum would be primarily developed by practising teachers and discipline specialists within university departments, not schools of education, and offered to schools on a voluntary basis and in competition to state-developed alternatives.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Pesky! Top nutritious choice is in the can

CHALLENGING a long-held belief, a Choice study has found that canned and frozen vegetables can be more nutritious than their fresh counterparts. The consumer magazine tested frozen, canned, week-old and fresh vegetables, both cooked and uncooked, for the contents of certain nutrients. With the exception of broccoli, all canned and frozen vegetables tested contained more or equal percentages of vitamins and anti-oxidants.

"Frozen English spinach was more nutritious than cooked fresh spinach," Choice spokeswoman Indira Naidoo said. Canned tomatoes contained about five times more lycopine, which is believed to prevent heart diseases and prostate cancer, than fresh ones. Accordingly, canned green beans and carrots were more nutritious than their fresh counterparts, and there was little difference between canned and fresh corn.

The vegetables were purchased in Melbourne, but University of Queensland expert Mike Gidley said he would not expect different results for vegetables bought in a Queensland supermarket. "Absolutely fresh is the most nutritious," the director of Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences said. "But what we call fresh has often taken a long time to get from the field to the supermarket."

New technologies made it possible to keep these vegetables looking fresh for weeks, Choice states. Frozen and canned vegetables, in contrast, are often processed directly after being picked. When buying canned vegetables, consumers may face another problem. Choice claims it is very difficult for Australian consumers "to compare the true cost of prices". Cans in different sizes have different prices, and sometimes bigger cans or packets are not the cheapest option as one might believe, Choice states.


An Australian reaction to the latest IPCC "Wisdom"

From the political editor of "The Sydney Morning Herald" -- who gives SOME balance to his coverage

The first thing that strikes you on reading the latest consensus report from the world's climate scientists about the effect of global warming is that it is like the plot of an Armageddon movie. "The climate of the 21st century is virtually certain to be warmer with changes in extreme events," says the chapter on the effects on Australia and New Zealand, due to be published tonight in Brussels.

"Heatwaves and fires are virtually certain to increase in intensity and frequency (high confidence)", with the parenthetic notation meaning that the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change attach a likelihood of greater than 90 per cent to this forecast. "Floods, landslides, droughts and storm surges are very likely to become more frequent and intense, and snow and frost are likely to become less frequent (high confidence)," says the final draft of the document that the panel provided to the institutions that set it up, the world's governments. "Ongoing water security problems are very likely to increase by 2030 in southern and eastern Australia and parts of NZ that are distant from major rivers (high confidence). "Ongoing coastal development is very likely to exacerbate risk to lives and property from sea-level rise and storms. Sea level is virtually certain to rise (high confidence)."

So, for example, by 2050 a rise of 20 centimetres in the sea level along the Sydney coast combined with a big, once-in-50-year storm would bring the sea 110 metres further inland at Collaroy and Narrabeen beaches, a permanent loss of coast, the scientists project. Then there is the damage to major infrastructure from extreme weather by 2030: "Risks include failure of flood plain protection and urban drainage-sewage, increased storm and fire damage, and more heatwaves causing more deaths and more blackouts (high confidence)." Plus there is the expected damage to forestry and farming, the extinction of hundreds of species, and the destruction of unique environmental assets such as the Kakadu wetlands and the Great Barrier Reef.

And all this from a projected rise in average temperature of between 0.3 degrees and 3.4 degrees in the zone from Australia's coast to 800 kilometres inland, a warming that the scientists predict will happen by 2050 on present trends. The warming in Australia so far, since 1910, has been between 0.6 and 1.2 degrees, with most of the rise since 1950. The reported rise in the sea level is seven centimetres.

The report, five years in the making, is the state of knowledge of the world's climate scientists. The chapter on Australia and New Zealand bears the names of 22 authors. The panel operates in three working groups. The report of the first, on the physical science, went public in February. Tonight's is the work of the second, on impacts. The third, to be published next month, is on how to mitigate its effects.

The next thing that strikes you about the report is the high degree of uncertainty to which the authors readily confess. Climate change, the scientists write, "is taken to be due to both natural variability and human activities. The relative proportions are unknown unless otherwise stated". In Australia's case, "it is very likely that increases in greenhouse gases have significantly contributed to the warming since 1950". This wording - "very likely" and "significantly contributed" - is a useful reminder that we are still in the realm of hypothesis in trying to assess whether it is human activity that is responsible for global warming.

Scepticism in science, indeed in every realm of human affairs, is a healthy attitude. The very highest accolade, the Nobel prize, has been awarded for acclaimed breakthroughs that are later discredited, like the 1949 decision to give the Portuguese neurologist Egas Moniz the prize for inventing the lobotomy as a cure for schizophrenia.

A leading Australian sceptic of man-made climate change is Ian Plimer, a professor of mining geology at the University of Adelaide. The fact that the Earth's atmospheric temperature is rising at the same time as humans emit more greenhouse gases is a correlation, and not a causation, he points out: "The Earth's temperature rose by 0.7 per cent in the 20th century, but there was also an increase in piracy. Does that mean piracy causes global warming?"

If Al Gore calls climate change an inconvenient truth, Plimer asks unfashionable questions. "There is new work emerging even in the last few weeks that shows we can have a very close correlation between the temperatures of the Earth and supernova and solar radiation. What if global warming has nothing to do with human activity? "What happens if the astronomers are right, and the world is actually entering a cooling period?" Plimer thinks the climate scientists are in the grip of groupthink and that other branches of science can lend perspective: "We geologists have seen climate change for 4500 million years. Tell us something new."

He dismissed the recent visit to Australia by Sir Nicholas Stern, an adviser to the British Treasury and author of the Stern report on climate change. Stern proposed that Australia cut its carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, and by 60 per cent by 2050, to avert catastrophic global warming. Plimer's response: "Stern bases his argument on science, but he hasn't validated it. So from day one, I don't even let him out of the barrier."

What if the hypothesis is wrong? What if, like the Y2K hypothesis, all the experts turn out to be embarrassingly off the mark? What if Stern is wrong? He has proposed that the world spend 1 per cent of annual economic output for the next few decades to move from a high-carbon to a low-carbon economy. What if this money, about $US400 billion a year, is spent on the basis of a flawed theory?

It was a question Stern was quite happy to answer during his visit to Sydney. "What if I'm wrong?" he posited in an interview with the Herald. "Well, suppose this science is a big hoax, and we believe it and we invest 1 per cent of GDP per annum. What are we going to get? "We'll get a bunch of new technologies, some of which will turn out to be really super - say the price of solar energy really drops - this is the kind of thing we might get out of it. "We'd get much less air pollution. You'll get cleaner fuels for developing countries, which will make cooking much safer. Air pollution in huts is the second most important cause of death in developing countries, after water shortages from lack of infrastructure. "So you get a lot of collateral benefit. And you've spent 1 per cent of GDP for a while till you find out."

Then he turned the proposition around: "What if you take the much, much more likely hypothesis that the vast majority of the world's scientists are right. And you bet the other way. You say: 'I don't believe all this stuff, I'm going to wait and see.' "What if that bet's wrong? You end up in a position that's extremely hard to extricate yourself. The flow of carbon emissions building up into the stock is like a ratcheting effect. You can't turn the clock back. The basic economics of risk point very strongly to action."

The annual sales of the global insurance industry, excluding life insurance, amount to 3.5 per cent of global GDP, according to McKinsey's management consultants. If the world is prepared to pay the equivalent of 3.5 per cent of its total annual output to guard against the possibility of all sorts of risks that, in any one year for any one client, are quite remote, such as fire and theft, then the prospect of paying a 1 per cent premium to protect against a catastrophic global event seems entirely reasonable.

Australia's political leaders have abandoned scepticism on climate change. Both the Coalition and Labor are now pledged to overcoming climate change. They are going about it in very different ways. Kevin Rudd has embraced the targets for big cuts to Australia's carbon emissions, but refuses to say how these targets would operate. Will they be compulsory? How would they be enforced? He won't say. So Labor's policy is feelgood but, without a great deal more detail, it is phoney.

John Howard rejects any targets, any targets whatsoever, for cutting emissions. He offers a few specific initiatives but they are ad hoc, without any overall pattern or plan. Howard's biggest single environmental initiative to date is his $10 billion plan to revive the Murray-Darling River system, and it is a very good plan. But it seeks to fix a problem of water flow without addressing the climate that produces the water. It addresses a symptom, not a cause. Rudd accuses Howard of "not getting it". Howard accuses Rudd of seeking to destroy the jobs of Australian coalminers in a rush of green fundamentalism.

The good news is that it is an election year and problems, such as this one, that have been long ignored in Australia are getting a lot of attention. The bad news is that it's an election year, a feverish time when, as the Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry, told his department recently: "There is a greater than usual risk of the development of policy proposals that are, frankly, bad." The overheating of the political climate in this election year is one form of climate change for which there is 100 per cent certainty.


Hire, fire power for principals coming

PUBLIC school principals will be given the right to hire and fire staff and determine how much to pay teachers based on merit under a new push to improve performance. At the annual meeting of education ministers next week in Darwin, Education Minister Julie Bishop will recommend a shift in the pay structure for teachers to align salary with the quality of their teaching rather than length of service.

Ms Bishop will also outline a plan to extend an agreement by the states to ensure school principals are granted more power over teacher appointments to expressly include recruitment and dismissal of staff and control of school budgets. Under the proposal, a new legal indemnity will be provided for principals to veto the transfer to their school of a new staff member and to sack staff for inadequate performance.

Ms Bishop will also recommend that the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs empower principals to pay teachers according to performance, based on criteria including the relative improvement in their students' academic achievement. Other measures suggested by Ms Bishop are feedback from parents and students, the contribution of the teacher to broader school life, and the attainment by the teacher of relevant academic and professional standards, including continuing professional development. Under Ms Bishop's plan, the states will run pilot programs of performance pay schemes next year, and while state governments will pay the salaries and cost of implementing any schemes, the federal Government will pay up to half of the administrative costs of conducting the pilots.

At present, teachers' pay is largely based on an incremental scale linked to years in the job, with about eight or 10 salary bands with little requirement to meet professional standards. Ms Bishop's proposal calls on the states and territories to recognise that quality teaching is the "single most important school-based factor in improving student learning" and that teacher salaries should reflect performance measures. "Yet current salary arrangements could be considered to undervalue quality teaching in the classroom," the proposal says.

School principals yesterday welcomed the proposals after years of warnings that bureaucratic red tape forced them to accept the hiring of sub-standard teachers. "There's nothing more important for a principal than having the people he or she chooses in front of students in the classroom," Australian Secondary Principals Association president Andrew Blair said. "You can't be accountable for school performance when you haven't got control over the teachers who are hired or the budget that determines how school funds are spent. If it's applied across the country, that's fantastic."

Primary control of school budgets would be devolved to principals at individual schools under Ms Bishop's plan, to ensure state bureaucrats do not continue to control the funds. Under the proposal, the states and territories would provide the commonwealth with advice on the introduction and implementation of the scheme within weeks, with the legislation to be introduced no later than next year.

"It is recommended that council agree that principals should be provided with a statutory right to veto the transfer to their school of a new staff member, appoint any registered teacher to the staff of their school, and terminate a staff member from their school on prescribed grounds, including for a lack of performance," the discussion paper states. "Primary control of school budgets should be devolved to principals at individual schools."

Primary Principals Association vice-president Colin Pettitt said research showed that where principals could select teachers they could get a better team together than those who were simply appointed.

But the Victorian Government dismissed the Bishop proposal, saying it has in place a system that rewards high-performing teachers and takes into account student achievement. "Ms Bishop is simply trying to pass the cost of education on to the states after her ideas were rejected by Peter Costello," a government spokesman said yesterday....

Kevin Rudd and Labor education spokesman Stephen Smith have embraced merit-based pay for teachers and greater autonomy for schools and principals. The ALP wants to offer top teachers up to $100,000 a year to work in the toughest schools and offer all teachers a pay rise of up to $10,000 a year if they meet rigorous standards. But performance pay advocates have criticised Labor's plan because it would not link teachers' pay to student success in exams or the views of parents and principals, but to accreditation by a bureaucratic body.


Elite bias against Christianity getting a bit embarassed?

An excellent post below by Andrew Bolt. I most particularly applaud the final paragraph. I have Bach's divine "Passio secundum Matthaeum" playing as I write this. I particularly love the great baritone aria: "Mache dich mein Herze rein". It always moves me to tears

MOCKING Christ has not, in years, seemed this childish – even cowardly. And no, I’m not a Christian. Of course, this being Easter, Christianity’s most holy festival, we’ve seen some of the usual tributes of disrespect from the cultural elite. While the ABC refused to show the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, for fear of God knows what mayhem, it had no such fear this week of mocking Jesus, whose crucifixion is remembered today.

Its Triple J station held “Jesus, you’ve got talent!” – a talent quest for singing toga wearers and the like, (and did so without the protection of one policeman). Chicago’s School of Art Institute, meanwhile, displayed an art work showing Christ resurrected as Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama, son of a Muslim-born Kenyan. And New York’s Lab Gallery unveiled a life-sized Jesus made of chocolate, anatomically accurate right down to his bared penis.

I know, it’s tame stuff given what we’ve seen before. Who can forget Piss Christ, the crucifix plopped in a jar of urine at the National Gallery of Victoria? Or the Chris Ofili picture of the Virgin Mary, decorated with cow dung, which the National Gallery of Australia tried to bring in? Or the ABC’s Christmas special of 1999 – a comparison of the Sistine Chapel’s religious frescoes with the paintings made by hip British artists Gilbert and George of their semen, faeces, spit and blood?

But all these are just accent points of an elite culture that slurs Christians so naturally that The Age blithely ran opinion pieces last month with yet more priest-baiting lines, such as these: "Being Catholic, the ‘70s meant rock masses, liturgical dancing and clapping to Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham until you lost all will to live. When you heard the word `priest’ you didn’t immediately think `child molester’ – you thought of that guy with sideburns and shocking breath who played the guitar badly and wanted to be `down with the youth’ . . . “(W)e’d watch Mass for You at Home: just as soul-destroying and mind-numbing as the real thing, but it took half the time and you didn’t have to shake hands with that weird guy with the eczema.”

Ask any Christian politician how hard it is now, given the Gulf Stream of anti-Christian bigotry, to discuss moral issues in the media. Their opinions will be dismissed as the he-would-say-that prattlings of a Vatican parrot or of a nice-but zealot. Ask Tony Abbott, the Health Minister and a Catholic, whose reasoned arguments on an abortion pill were sniggered away by a slogan on a gloating Greens senator’s T-shirt: “Get your rosaries off my ovaries.”

YET it seems the cheap-shot sneers of intolerant atheists are fewer this year. More muted. And the squawks we still hear seem more contemptible. It would be no wonder. I wouldn’t be alone in thinking each time an artist or commentator insults Christians: "friend, if you’re so brave, say that about Islam". Show us your chocolate Mohammeds. Show us your Korans dipped in urine. Where is the singer who will rip up a Koran as Marilyn Manson ripped up a Bible? Or will on television tear up a picture of Islam’s most honoured preacher as Sinead O’Connor shredded one of the great Pope John Paul II?

It’s not as if Islam doesn’t threaten our artists more than does Christianity. See only the murder of film director Theo van Gogh or the fatwa on writer Salman Rushdie or the stabbing of Rushdie’s translator. Or see those deadly riots against the Mohammed cartoons. So when I see a Western artist mock Christ, I see an artist advertising not his courage but his cowardice – by not daring to mock what would threaten him more.

I am most certainly not saying that moderate Islam should now be treated with the childish disrespect so often shown to Christianity. Nor am I saying most Muslims endorse violence, or that there aren’t a few Christians who might turn violent, too. After all, the chocolate Jesus has been removed from display when Lab Gallery’s boss was bombarded with complaints and even – he claims – threats. But I am saying that more people now know there is a double standard here illustrated perfectly by the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which banned acts that told jokes against Muslims but promoted ones that lampooned Christians. It’s this blatant double standard that may finally have shamed some of the usual jeerers into showing Christianity a little respect.

And perhaps – just perhaps – more of us might be wakening to a truth we too long took for granted. It’s no accident that we feel safer insulting Christians than trashing almost anyone else. This is a religion that’s always preached tolerance, reason and non-violence, even if too many of its followers have seemed deaf. It’s also urged us to leave the judgment of others to God (a message I ignore for professional reasons). We are the beneficiaries of that preaching, even those of us who aren’t Christians.

We live in a society, founded on Christian principles, that guards our right to speak, and even to abuse things we should praise. We can now vilify Jesus and damn priests, and risk nothing but hard looks from a soft bishop, and a job offer from The Age. We dare all that because we do not actually fear what we condemn. We know Christians are taught not to punch our smarmy face, and we even count on it. Indeed, it is the very faith we mock that has made us so safe.

This is one reason why I, an agnostic, will today do what I do every Easter, and play Bach’s divine St Matthew Passion while I sit for a while and give thanks. I will be thanking again not only a preacher of astonishing moral clarity and courage, but one who inspired a faith that has brought us unparalleled gifts – including the freedom to create even a chocolate Jesus in this most holy of weeks


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Anti-smacking kit hit

"He that spareth his rod hateth his son" -- Proverbs 13:24

A NEW $2.5 million campaign urging parents not to smack their children has upset a family group that supports smacking. It is not illegal for parents to smack their children, but the federal government-funded "Every Child is Important" campaign argues against it. "Hitting a child does not teach acceptable ways to behave," its material says. "Instead it may result in a repeat of the misbehaviour. "Successful discipline can be achieved without the use of physical punishment."

Family Council of Victoria secretary Bill Muehlenberg said it was wrong to use taxpayers' money to push an anti-smacking line most parents would disagree with. Mr Muehlenberg, who smacked his three boys, said that in some cases with small children it was the only option. "It's usually done as a last resort, done in love, done with moderation, self-control," he said. "It's not the same as abuse -- which we already have laws on the books about."

But Dr Joe Tucci, CEO of the Australian Childhood Foundation, which compiled the "Every Child is Important" campaign material, is opposed to smacking. He said parents should work out why their child was misbehaving and address the cause. "You don't have to hit your children to teach them right from wrong," Dr Tucci said.

Sunrise presenter and father-of-four David Koch is a high-profile smacking advocate. "Smacking is very different to being abusive," he told the Herald Sun. Koch said that it was wrong to smack when you were emotional, but an out-of-control child might need a tap. "I think a smack can be useful because it actually is a circuit-breaker, if you like, from actually being out of control," he said.

The "Every Child is Important" campaign features brochures, CD-ROMs and website advice for parents. It covers -- in 16 languages -- the early years, play, expressing love, harmful words, misbehaviour, siblings, accepting difference, safety and coping with stress.


I think I would back Biblical wisdom against modern-day do-gooder theory. The do-gooder wisdom about the importance of self-esteem has long since imploded so there is no reason to think that this related thinking will be any different

Union decline puts heat on Labor party

UNION membership has plummeted to just one in five workers, leading the Howard Government to attack Labor for being captive to an ever-shrinking section of the workforce. The 6.6 per cent decline in union ranks - most pronounced in NSW - has also raised fears about Labor's long-term survival. The former federal Labor leader, Kim Beazley, told the Herald earlier this year he feared for Labor's future if it lost the next election because the new workplace laws would destroy the ALP's union base.

The Government seized on the Bureau of Statistics figures as an endorsement of its industrial relations legislation, claiming workers were voting with their feet. The number of private sector workers in unions has fallen to 15 per cent. Union ranks are now dominated by nurses, teachers and public servants.

The bureau's figures dent ACTU claims that the new laws had sent 69,800 workers back into the arms of unions in 2005. That rise has been cancelled by an exodus of 125,900 workers over the 12 months to August 2006. The ACTU blames the new laws. "If Work Choices is so evil, why would people be walking away from unions?" the Minister for Workplace Relations, Joe Hockey, said yesterday. "This sends an emphatic message to Kevin Rudd. Workers are walking away from unions and Kevin Rudd and Labor should walk away from unions as well."

Labor's industrial relations spokeswoman, Julia Gillard, said there was no link between the rate of unionisation and Labor's stance on industrial relations. "We know from published opinion polls, and I know from conversations I have every day, that Australian working men or women, whether or not they are union members, are overwhelmingly opposed to Work Choices," she said.

But the ACTU president, Sharan Burrow, said the new laws had made workplaces much more hostile to union membership. "When you have got industrial relations laws designed to take away people's rights at work, make it harder to bargain collectively and allow employers to force thousands of people onto individual Australian Workplace Agreements contracts each day, then the laws are clearly doing what they were designed to do: put all the power in employers' hands," Ms Burrow said.

Mr Hockey said workers were turning their backs on unions because union officials were spending their dues campaigning against the Government rather than representing their members.

The latest figures represent the second largest annual decline in union ranks since the bureau began regularly surveying employees on union membership in 1990. Almost half of the fall came in NSW, where union membership fell 58,600 to 604,600. In the private sector, apart from pockets of strength in manufacturing, construction and mining, the unionist is almost an endangered species. Fewer than one in 10 employees in fast-growing service industries such as finance and insurance, hospitality, real estate and administrative and support services are union members.


Operating theatres shut down in Victoria despite high-demand

A STRING of hospitals has been forced to close operating theatres over the Easter holiday break, according to the State Opposition. Opposition health spokesman Helen Shardey said yesterday the stoppage at several regional and two metropolitan hospitals reflected the Bracks Government's failure to adequately fund the hospitals. Kyneton District Health Service, Kilmore Hospital, Bairnsdale Regional Health Service, Casey Hospital and Monash Medical Centre will each close its theatres for a fortnight. Echuca Regional Health will stop elective surgery for three weeks, after a two-week shutdown over Christmas.

But the hospitals and the State Government deny any funding shortfall, saying the routine closures were largely to allow staff to have time off over the holiday period. Ms Shardey said the hospitals were "feeling obliged to say that". "There are concerns that they are running short of funds and are being forced into this action," she said. Ms Shardey said it was inappropriate for the theatres to close for routine surgery while more than 36,000 patients remained on Victoria's waiting lists. "These latest closures are enough to cause further delays in waiting times for essential surgery when patients have already waited long enough," Ms Shardey said.

But Bairnsdale Regional Health Service CEO Gary Gray denied his hospital in East Gippsland was closing surgery for financial reasons. "We are actually operating at a surplus at the moment," Mr Gray said. "We work our closures around Christmas and Easter as part of our leave management strategy; obviously that is when we get the most requests for leave from our staff. "No one is going to have to wait longer for surgery," he said.


Global warming "could" destroy Great Barrier Reef

Prophecies of doom for Australia's great coral reef were common long before global warming was thought of. Declines used to be blamed on fertilizer runoff from farms. The truth is that, as a huge living system, it undergoes constant change for reasons people can only guess at. It should be noted however that the reef is at its most luxuriant in WARM waters and dies out as it stretches into cooler waters. Clearly, reef-lovers should HOPE for global warming as warmth is one thing that is known to be good for it. You would never guess any of that from the article below, however -- which is just the usual scare story from the usual suspects:

THE world's most spectacular natural wonders, ranging from Australia's Great Barrier Reef to the Amazon River basin, are threatened by the ravages of global warming, the green group WWF said today. It singled out 10 micro-regions across the globe where climate change has already taken a toll, warning that these delicately-balanced ecosystems are, in many cases, in danger of disappearing outright.

"While adaptation to changing climate can save some, only drastic action by governments to reduce emissions" of greenhouse gases can stop the "complete destruction" of others, said WWF scientist Lara Hansen. Up to 60 per cent of the Amazon forest, home to nearly a third of the planet's land species, could become semi-arid savanna if average global temperatures rise 2-3C above 1990 levels, the WWF said. It is very likely that some species will become extinct even before they are identified.

The WWF report comes a day before the world's top climate scientists in Brussels release a large report, the second of three, predicting dire consequences from global warming, especially for poor nations and species diversity. "There is high confidence that climate change will result in extinction of many species and reduction in the diversity of ecosystems," says the 1400-page final draft report, a copy of which was obtained by AFP. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's first report, released in February, forecast temperatures would rise between 1.8-4C by century's end. A final volume, due to be released in early May, will discuss how warming can be mitigated.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef along with other reef ecosystems - which take up only a quarter of a per cent of ocean floor surfaces but sustain 25 per cent of all marine life - are rapidly declining, the WWF warned. The IPCC report says that an increase of only 2C will result in the bleaching of the world's reefs, with catastrophic consequences for species diversity and local economies that depend on them....


Friday, April 06, 2007

Australia's folate battle

That folate is bad for the elderly does not matter, of course. Let them eat cake!

The humble loaf of bread has become the meat in the sandwich, as health experts and food authorities slug it out over whether our staple food should be put on medication. Now the big manufacturers have entered the bun fight, releasing to the Herald a white paper on why the industry will fight the Government over its plan to introduce synthetic folate into our daily bread. On Monday, Food Standards Australia New Zealand put its final paper up for industry discussion on why mandatory folic acid fortification of the flour used exclusively for bread was needed to cut down the number of neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida.

But George Weston Foods and Goodman Fielder, with backing from the Australian Food and Grocery Council, have amassed a wealth of reasons why mandatory fortification is a bad idea. The industry is raising concerns over the risks to the general population in "medicating the food supply", including cancer scares, and are arguing that there are far more effective means of reducing birth defects than adding 200 micrograms of folic acid to every loaf of bread they produce.

Both sides agree that mandatory fortification would not protect the section of population targeted - women planning to get pregnant and those in the early stages of pregnancy. They would still have to take a folic acid supplement to guard against spina bifida. The bread industry claims that for pregnant women to protect themselves, they would need to eat between 10 and 18 slices of bread per day.

But the food standards agency, which has the support of the Australian Medical Association, is arguing that in the US long-term fortification has shown a marked decrease in the incidence of spina bifida. And while pregnant women would still have to take a supplement, the fortification of bread would act as a "safety net". However, Dr Rosemary Stanton, a nutritionist, opposes the Government move, comparing adding folic acid to bread to "adding vitamins to lollies". "It's just giving people another excuse not to eat fruit and vegetables," she said.


Creeping privatization of government healthcare in Australia's oldest "free" hospital system

It's a process already well underway in Britain

AROUND 10,000 Queensland public hospital patients waiting for elective surgery will now be able to access private health care as the government throws its waiting lists open to tender. Health Minister Stephen Robertson today confirmed a Courier-Mail report that the state was spending $8.5 million to have the patients treated sooner in the private sector through a brokerage service. "Queenslanders who have been identified as waiting too long for their elective surgery will be offered to this brokerage service, who will then go around private hospitals to see who is prepared to take that patient," Mr Robertson told ABC radio today. "They will obviously be paid for taking that particular patient. "That means we will be able to make some real inroads into those numbers of Queenslanders who are waiting outside of the time that it is clinically appropriate for them to be seen for their elective surgery."

Mr Robertson said about 160 of the most urgent category one patients were waiting longer than 30 days. There were between 3,000 and 3,300 patients rated as category two and around 6,000 to 6,600 in the least urgent category three. The service, called Surgery Connect, will target elective surgery for procedures such as hip and knee replacements, hysterectomies and corrective eye surgery. Mr Robertson said private sector doctors already performed elective surgery at the federal government's Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) rate of payment and there was no reason why they should not do the same surgery on public hospital patients for the same money. Private hospitals had also said they were willing to take the patients.

"Not all private hospitals are working flat out and from my meetings with them, they tell me on a regular basis they would be keen to see more public patients come through their doors, so this is us testing that market," Mr Robertson said.

But AMA Queensland (AMAQ) president-elect Ross Cartmill said morale in the public hospital system would suffer under the new system. "We feel very strongly that it's the doctors working in the public sector who should be doing any of the surgery," Dr Cartmill said. "Secondly, we've made it very clear that they are training the trainees - the doctors of tomorrow. "If you want to undermine the morale of the public hospital system, that's the way to do it."


Climate change report is wrong: Australian professor

Once again, it is only a retired scientist who feels free to speak up

The global scientific report blaming carbon emissions for climate change is based on misconceptions about the Earth's behaviour, says an Australian academic who believes global warming is not caused by mankind. The respected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released earlier this year said it was very likely climate change was the result of greenhouse gases produced by human activity.

Emeritus Professor Lance Endersbee has accused the scientific leaders of trying to stifle debate over the causes of climate change. Professor Endersbee, a former dean of engineering and pro-vice chancellor at Monash University, says it is highly probable that increased electromagnetic radiation of the sun is behind global warming. "There are several disturbing aspects of the IPCC report which indicate that the conclusions are based on serious misconceptions about the behaviour of the Earth," Prof Endersbee said in the newsletter New Concepts in Global Tectonics. "The report reflects little understanding of the dynamic relation between the Earth, the Sun and the Cosmos. "In these circumstances it is incredible that some leaders of scientific societies and academies have tried to use their authority to demand acceptance of the IPCC report."

Prof Endersbee said air pollution should be dealt with on a regional level as a separate issue to global warming. "It is ridiculous to assume that the health problems of smog in India and China have global causes, and can be solved by carbon trading in the City of London," he said. Carbon dioxide was not a pollutant and there was no need for a risky emissions market as advocated by the IPCC, Prof Endersbee said. "If it comes to be recognised that global warming has a natural cause, and the fears subside, the value of carbon credits will then drop to zero, and the market in carbon trading will collapse."



Such is the hatred that Leftists feel towards their own society that they very often idealize primitive cultures (a rather comprehensive example of that here). They no longer use Rousseau's term "Noble savages" but they share Rousseau's fantasies. To show just how addled such beliefs are, I thought it might be instructive to reproduce part of a report by Louis Nowra about how "noble" one continent-wide group of primitives are: The Australian Aborigines. No-one who knows Aborigines well (as I do) will dispute the reality of what is described below:

In 2005 I spent several days in the Alice Springs hospital after falling ill while attending a friend's wedding. I shared a ward with a middle-aged Aboriginal man who was quite proud that he had raped a 13-year-old girl. As he said, "She wouldn't say yes, so I f---ed her hard." It did not surprise me. A few years before, I was in Alice Springs talking to two Aboriginal men in their early 70s. They were preparing to go into town to buy plastic toy dinosaurs. This was to pay a 12-year-old girl for having sex with both of them at the same time.

What amazed me was their lack of shame or even simple embarrassment. What disturbed me even more was that the most common sight in the hospital was Aboriginal women and girls with severe injuries suffered during domestic violence. Some of their faces looked as though an incompetent butcher had conducted plastic surgery with a hammer and saw. The fear in their eyes reminded me of dogs whipped into cringing submission. The confronting evidence of what men had done to the women was almost unbearable.

About 20 years ago an Aboriginal woman told me she had been raped at the age of seven by her uncle and grandfather on a town rubbish tip. As I was to discover as my circle of Aboriginal friends and acquaintances grew, sexual abuse was not uncommon -- and in some communities it was rife -- from the 1960s onwards. Another friend told me that at the age of 10 he had been thrown into a wardrobe where his uncle masturbated him and then forced him to perform oral sex. Several other "uncles" also abused him through the years. I heard of many more such incidents and not one of these men ever had to go to court for their actions.

After I had recovered from my stay in Alice Springs hospital I was alarmed to read of a middle-aged Aboriginal man who anally raped a 14-year-old girl whom, he said, had been promised to him. Northern Territory Chief Justice Brian Martin sentenced him to detention for the duration of the court session. It seemed to me that Aboriginal men were using the defence of cultural traditions to get away with rape and murder. But it's not only that. The statistics on Aboriginal domestic violence and sexual abuse are so much worse than in the general population, as has been highlighted in the 40 reports produced on the issue since 1999. All the statistics and case studies I refer to in this piece are sourced from federal and state government reports, court proceedings, newspaper articles and books, and are expanded on in my new book, Bad Dreaming (Pluto Press), which also contains an extensive bibliography.

The Alice Springs hospital provides a clear example: about 800 Aboriginal women were treated for domestic assault last year, up from 351 in 1999. The rate of domestic assault in indigenous communities is eight to 10 times that of non-indigenous communities and the sexual abuse of girls is so widespread that one-third of 13-year-old girls in the NT are infected with chlamydia and gonorrhoea. In fact, the situation has become a calamity.

But even more disturbing is that while some Aborigines are being recognised as wonderful painters, photographers, actors, filmmakers, footballers and dancers, indigenous communities are breaking down under the strain of male violence and sexual brutality. As Aboriginal elder Mick Dodson has said: "This is not just our problem; this is everyone's problem."

After the arrival of the First Fleet explorers and settlers wrote about the violence they saw Aboriginal men inflict on women. They also observed how the men kidnapped women from other tribes, raped them and forced them to become their wives.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The "drought" hits Sydney again

There is nothing inadequate about the rainfall but there IS a shortage of will among politicians who have been so cowed by Green fanatics that they have built no new dams for many years -- hence water usage restrictions amidst floods thoughout Australia

Commuters told of roads turning into rivers and water lapping at front doors after a storm hit Sydney's eastern suburbs this morning. About 80 millimetres of rain fell on Rose Bay in about an hour and small hail hit Bondi. The State Emergency Service said they had 12 requests for help during the storm, including flash flooding problems.

IT consultant Anthony Fajwul, 34, found himself surrounded by water while driving through Kiaora Road in Double Bay. "It was surreal," he told "[The water] was lapping at the doorsteps of the houses. One resident stepped out of their front door into knee-deep water. "I thought [my car] was going to break down - the water was above my wheel line. I put the window down and I could touch the water. "I thought surely that must be a one-off, but when I turned into New South Head Road, it was just as bad. "It was just this massive river as far as the eye could see. People were drenched on the sidewalk. People were holding their shoes up. "It was just such a sudden storm. I've never seen anything like it."

Bob Moore, senior forecaster at the Bureau of Meteorology, said a storm built up near Kurnell about 8am and moved through the eastern suburbs over the following hour. "It was moving along fairly steadily but slowed down a bit over Rose Bay, and they copped [it]. They've had about 80 millimetres," he said. "It was enough to cause a bit of flash flooding there apparently. "[Eighty millimetres] is something we would get once every one or two years around the eastern suburbs in that space of time."

He said a Bureau of Meteorology staff member had also reported small-sized hail falling in Bondi. "[The hail] didn't seem to be a worry to anyone but the rain certainly was pretty heavy." Mr Moore said the downpour had since eased off but warned that there was still a chance of a thunderstorm later in the day. A spokesman for the NSW Fire Brigades said crews had been sent to locations in Bellevue Hill, Edgecliff, Randwick and Coogee to deal with flooding-related issues. In Edgecliff, crews were pumping out 60 centimetres of water, which had flooded three buildings and caused a retaining wall to collapse, he said.


Australian immigration detainees launch hunger strike

It's publicity such as we read below (this particular report from a far-Left site) that now prevents most illegals from even thinking about coming to Australia. Illegal immigration into Australia has now become so rare that the mainstream Australian press mostly treat it as a non-issue. The Left are however doing us all a good turn by continuing to do their best to frighten illegals off

I personally would favour more sympathetic treatment of Falun Gong refugees as there is no doubt that they do suffer badly in China -- but Falun Gong is widely followed in China (which is why it is persecuted) so there is no doubt that the floodgates would be opened wide if a more sympathetic policy were adopted

About 60 prisoners at one of Australia's notorious immigration detention centres launched a hunger strike on March 28 to protest against a new wave of refugee deportations, including the removal to China of a 35-year-old female member of the Falun Gong sect. As of yesterday, 25 detainees were continuing the fast into its second week. Despite receiving almost no coverage in the mainstream media, the protest at Sydney's Villawood Detention Centre-the scene of scores of previous hunger strikes-once again serves to highlight the inhumanity of the Howard government's mandatory detention of all asylum seekers.

Refugee activists said the Chinese woman was wanted by police in her home country for defending Falun Gong practitioners and attempting to expose their persecution. She screamed, awaking the other inmates, as at least six guards dragged her from the detention centre in her pyjamas at 4 a.m. on March 28. The guards, employed by Global Solutions Ltd, the private company that runs the centre, were acting under the instructions of the immigration department, following the failure of two previous efforts to deport the woman. The government flouted an agreement it had made with detainees to give 48 hours' notice of any removal. That same night, on March 28, a Tanzanian asylum seeker was taken to hospital after slashing himself with broken glass. His condition and whereabouts remain unknown.

The hunger strikers have raised three demands: an end to forcible removals, the abolition of mandatory detention, and reports from the government on the fate of previously deported refugees, numbers of whom are known to have been killed or imprisoned on their return. A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews has contemptuously denied any knowledge of the action. She confirmed that the woman had been placed on a flight to China, and claimed that the detention centre was calm after a "bit of noise". Two weeks before the Chinese woman's removal, two other detainees were deported: a Nepalese man, locked in Villawood for three years, and a Filipino woman. Earlier in February, six people were deported from Villawood, including three Chinese asylum seekers.

On March 27, the day before the hunger strike began, up to 40 detainees protested about another Chinese national, An Xiang Tao, being confined in an isolation cell. An was isolated after being taken to hospital with head wounds that he apparently inflicted on himself when detainees were told that he was being removed to China. An, also a Falun Gong practitioner, arrived in Australia in 2000 and had been in detention for four years before his deportation was ordered by the Federal Court earlier this year. About 100 Villawood detainees of many different nationalities formed a human blockade to prevent that taking place in late February.

The government's forced removals are blatant violations of basic democratic rights, as well as international refugee law. It is well known that Chinese deportees face religious and political persecution in China. The Chinese government banned the Falun Gong spiritual group in 1999 and has subjected its supporters to imprisonment and various forms of repression.

An and eight other asylum seekers have taken a case to the Australian government's Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) for human rights transgressions and racial discrimination in Villawood. The action was brought after a number of Chinese officials visited the country in 2005, and were permitted to question 24 Villawood detainees. The interrogations gave An and other Chinese detainees even further reason to fear retribution from Beijing. An's lawyer, Michaela Byers, told the media: "He fears that they will detain him on arrival, and that he may match someone on a data base who needs an organ transplant." A report published last year, based on investigations undertaken by a former Canadian cabinet minister, accused Chinese authorities of killing Falun Gong practitioners and selling body parts to foreigners.

The conditions faced by the detainees in Villawood are nothing short of barbaric. In October 2005, six Chinese asylum seekers held a hunger strike at Villawood for up to 55 days to protest against mandatory detention and their conditions. The protest exposed the fact that nothing had improved inside the detention centres despite cynical efforts by the Howard government to placate growing public disgust at the systematic mistreatment of asylum seekers and other so-called "illegal immigrants". Last November, over a hundred Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese detainees staged a 48-hour hunger strike in protest against the poor and punitive conditions, and the length of their detention. Some had been locked up for more than four years and separated from their families.

More here

Arrogant government drug warriors

Abuse of children based on an incorrect "tipoff"

SCHOOLBOY athletes have been forced to strip naked and provide samples to drug-testing officials in a doping blitz on Sydney's most exclusive high schools. Officials from the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority forced members of the Sydney Church of England Grammar School rowing team to strip and give samples during an interschool regatta three weeks ago.

ASADA attended the annual Head of the River Regatta last Saturday, but was refused permission to test the mainly Year 11 and 12 students. "My concern is that our boys were told to strip naked by a complete stranger and provide a urine sample," Shore headmaster Tim Wright told The Daily Telegraph yesterday. "In my view only a parent could possibly give permission for such a procedure to occur involving a minor."

ASADA confirmed it had targeted the rowing events but insisted its officials had every right to be there. "One of the best ways to deter young athletes from doping is to ensure that ASADA has a presence at events like this one," a spokesman said.

King's School headmaster Tim Hawkes said the system was flawed because many students were on medication that could affect test results. "The drug authorities need to understand there are students using treatments for ADHD, even asthma, and these may well affect results," he said. "What if they had an aspirin for a headache and failed a test? I would be extremely concerned about that." Dr Hawkes said the officials could not provide any evidence that they had undergone necessary background checks to work with children. "We needed to have evidence that these people had been cleared by the appropriate agencies to work in an unsupervised manner with children. "As this has never happened before, myself and the parents were a bit confused by it."

Rowing NSW's CEO David Evans, said ASADA was "cloak and dagger" about their reasons for testing. "It's never happened before at a schools-only event," he said. "It just came as a bit of a shock to the school community because their boys are suddenly being tested," he said. King's first eight coach Andrew Randell said one boy from a rival school was forced to stand naked for 20 minutes at the Sydney International Rowing Centre following tests on March 17. "It comes down to a duty of care situation, so I understand the concern of the parents," he said. GPS schools may now face disciplinary action for refusing to take part in testing last weekend.

Source. See also here

Labor party embraces private health care

LABOR will dump its opposition to higher health insurance rebates paid to the over-65s as the party prepares to drop its traditional antagonism to private health care. It comes as the ALP national conference later this month will move to excise from its platform a provision opposing growth in private care at the expense of the public system. The Opposition's health spokeswoman, Nicola Roxon, is today expected to tell private health funds that Labor accepts the role of a strong private health sector and supports higher rebates for older health fund members.

The move is an acknowledgement of the growth in health insurance in recent years and is in line with the strategy of the Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, of removing targets vulnerable to Government attack, including the private schools hit list and the pledge to reinstate workers sacked under the Government's looser unfair dismissal laws.

Labor has opposed the higher rebates - 35 per cent for the over 65s and 40 per cent for those over 70 - since they were introduced two years ago, giving the Government ammunition to raise doubts about Labor's commitment to the existing 30 per cent rebate which benefits about 10 million people. Since the introduction of the perks for older members, health fund membership for the over-60s has climbed sharply to more than 1.5 million in that age group. Labor has previously argued that the higher rebates would not be necessary because of its now aborted Medicare Gold plan to give free treatment to the elderly.

Ms Roxon said that clearly there were many people, particularly the elderly, who relied on the rebate to afford health insurance. "We don't believe we should add to their pressures by taking these away. I think this is a sign about Labor being able to move with the times. It is definitely an acceptance that private services are playing a more important role in health." She said it was important for the party "to concentrate on the issues we think the community wants us to deal with" and not on "outmoded debates that do not accept the community is changing".

Federal Labor has already signalled it is prepared for an even greater role for the private sectors in public health care, including investigating the training of doctors in private hospitals. Ms Roxon said she did not expect problems in getting the more private-friendly platform through the national conference. That was so long as the conference appreciated that Labor intended to invest in public health care to ensure the best quality service "and not some sort of safety net that the Government wants to turn it into".


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Federal Treasurer says: still too few kids

Evoking some very conservative comments from the spokesman for the Federal Left

AUSTRALIA faced a huge budget shortfall in 40 years because the fertility rate was still lagging behind the ageing of the population, it was predicted yesterday. The Federal Government says it has made some progress, but an ageing population will still mean Australia faces a budget deficit of $35 billion in 2047. Treasurer Peter Costello yesterday released a five-year update on his inter-generational report of 2002, which considered the challenges of an ageing population and a smaller proportion of workers to meet the cost burden.

"Demography is working against us," Mr Costello said in a speech to the National Press Club. He said Australia was in the middle of an economic "sweet spot" but could begin to feel the pain of massive demographic pressures as soon as 2010. Mr Costello said that despite some good progress, Australia's ageing population would place enormous strains on government intentions to provide health, aged care and pensions, "Australia is pretty much at the best point, at the sweet point, in the demographic transition now," Mr Costello said. "After 2010 the dependency ratio, the ratio of children and older people to people of working age, is expected to increase more rapidly as the baby boomers reach age pension."

He said more babies, more women in the workplace and some key government decisions had carved a huge chunk out of future budget deficits, but Australia still faced an annual budget deficit of $35 billion a year in 40 years' time. This was down from the predicted $50 billion in budget deficits Mr Costello was predicting five years ago. But the Treasurer said more had to be done to lift Australia's fertility rate. Mr Costello said the current baby bonus -- a cash incentive -- was a better way to help struggling families, as was the childcare rebate. While making forecasts over a number of areas, which could effect the budget bottom line, Mr Costello said the "inexact variables" such as climate change were too unpredictable to be included in the report.

Opposition Treasury spokesman Wayne Swan said Mr Costello was ignoring how important productivity was to improving future budgets and allowing governments to provide health and aged care and pensions. "The most fundamental way that we can improve living standards and create more wealth is to grow the economy faster," Mr Swan said. "To do that, you've got to lift productivity . . . that's the only sustainable way, in the long term, you cope with the economic challenges of the ageing of the population."

Australian women were still having fewer babies than the replacement rate of 2.1 babies per woman, but there had been a slight improvement in recent years to lift the fertility rate to 1.8.


Animal activist absent in court

It sure took a long time to get this one into court. Michael Darby commented on it (scroll down) in 2003

An animal rights activist being sued for almost $500,000 has not appeared in court to defend himself. Ralph Hahnheuser, 42, a former Animal Liberation South Australia activist, did not appear in the Federal Court in Melbourne yesterday to answer a civil claim lodged against him by two sheep exporting companies.

The exporters, Rural Export and Trading (WA) and Samex Australia Meat Company, lodged the claim against Mr Hahnheuser over an incident in November 2003 when he placed shredded ham in sheep feed at feedlots in Portland. Mr Hahnheuser has said he acted to make the sheep unacceptable to Muslim consumers.

As a result, about 70,000 sheep for export were delayed at the Portland feedlot for two weeks and another 1800 were not exported at all. Justice Peter Gray said he found the extent of the companies' claimed loss on the 1800 sheep "staggering". The civil case continues today.


Howard slaps down EU climate criticism

Prime Minister John Howard says the European Union (EU) should get its own house in order before it criticises Australia over greenhouse emissions. EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas has claimed political pride is the only reason Australia has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Speaking at a meeting of the United Nations intergovernmental panel on climate change, Mr Dimas urged Australia to sign up to the protocol - a move which he said would boost international efforts to address climate change.

But Mr Howard says 12 of the EU's member countries are not on track to meet their Kyoto targets, citing Italy, Spain and Portugal as examples. "You've got the spokesman for a group of countries lecturing us about not having signed Kyoto," he said. "Yet the great bulk of the countries on whose behalf he speaks are falling well behind their Kyoto targets, and are doing less well than Australia in meeting them."


Gunns court case gets green light

Tasmanian timber giant Gunns' fourth attempt to sue environmentalists and green groups will be allowed to proceed after the Victorian Supreme Court lifted a stay of proceedings. Gunns first attempted to sue 20 defendants in 2004, claiming anti-logging protests had damaged its business. Today the court allowed a fourth version of Gunns' statement of claims to proceed against 14 remaining defendants, including the Wilderness Society. But Gunns was ordered to pay some costs for six defendants dismissed from the case, including Greens Senator Bob Brown and the party's Tasmanian leader Peg Putt.

Senator Brown says the case has been a traumatic experience for defendants and is now likely to drag on for many years. "It is going to be an immense burden on them, both on their ability to get on with their lives and their well being," he said. "But that's the action that Gunns has taken."


More of that pesky "drought"

Bus, road trains stranded as highway submerges

Flooding on the Great Northern Highway in Western Australia's north has been causing problems for motorists over the weekend. A Greyhound bus, with just two passengers on board, was stranded outside Fitzroy Crossing for most of the weekend, unable to pass with the road 700 millimetres under water. Six road trains delivering supplies to towns in the region were also stuck at Fitzroy, unable to get through.

Local emergency services volunteer Andrew Twaddle says one truck got stuck when he swerved off the floodway. "They got the grader and the tractor from Gogo station and a loader from the community out there at Bayulu and hooked the three machines up to it and pulled him back up onto the highway," he said.


A coming apocalypse always has plenty of believers

People often ask how I can be sceptical about the claim that global warming is the major threat of our time, requiring urgent and massive action. After all, many scientists believe it and I am not a scientist. It's a good question, but I think I have a good answer. History shows that scientists are not always right. Sometimes they get caught up in the non-scientific enthusiasms of their time. History also shows that one of those enthusiasms, which crops up constantly, is a desire to believe in the approach of some kind of apocalypse. Of course, I have no way of knowing if the carbon crusade is a case in point. But it shares some of the characteristics of previous apocalyptic movements, which provides grounds for cool scepticism.

An apocalyptic movement comparable to the carbon crusade was the belief the world would soon run out of resources. According to the 1984 book The Apocalyptics by the American journalist Edith Efron, in 1970 scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the world's great centres of learning, produced the so-called SCEP report that acknowledged there just wasn't enough data to make such a prediction. Two years later the institute completed another report, Limits to Growth, commissioned by the Club of Rome, a group of people fearful for the planet's future. This time the conclusion was very different: a computer-modelled graph "showed natural resources, the industrial output, the food supply, and the population crashing somewhere near the year 2005 and continuing to crash for years . On the basis of these findings, the study called for an immediate cessation of all economic growth". Limits to Growth caused an international furore and was a bestseller in many countries, moving 3 million copies worldwide.

Although the resource issue was more widely debated among scientists than global warming, the similarities between the two are many, including the faith in computer modelling and the media treatment. The media largely ignored the moderate report (SCEP) and seized upon the alarmist one ( Limits to Growth). Something similar has happened with the carbon crusade. In 2005 the House of Lords select committee of economic affairs produced a report urging a cautious economic response to climate change, because its implications are so unclear. That report is well regarded by many economists but was largely ignored by the world media. The alarmist report produced the following year for the British treasury by Sir Nicholas Stern had the opposite fate: the world media have embraced it even as an increasing number of economists have been scathing in their condemnation.

On March 21 Bjorn Lomborg, the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, gave evidence to the US Congress house committee on energy and commerce. Lomborg believes humanity is warming the globe, but noted that academic papers have described the Stern report as "substandard", "preposterous", "incompetent", "deeply flawed" and "neither balanced nor credible". There's an emerging consensus among economists (for example in the leading journal World Economics) that Stern vastly inflated the likely damages from climate change and vastly underestimated the cost of the action he recommended.

To see such work hailed so effusively and widely, and to see its author received by Australia's top politicians just this week, are two indications to the sceptical observer that the carbon crusade is about apocalypse as much as it is about science.

There's a widespread view that we need to evoke the precautionary principle with climate change on the grounds that it's better to be safe than sorry. But when we talk about the precautionary principle, we need also to evoke another concept: opportunity cost. Money devoted to climate change is money not devoted to other problems. So the right question is this: given our current state of knowledge, which of the problems facing humanity deserves most of our attention?

Several years ago, Lomborg set up a project known as the Copenhagen consensus to determine this. Its starting point was to ask how we might best spend $US50 billion ($62 billion) if we wanted to make the world a better place. (As it happens, the amount of money spent on global warming research since 1990 is now about $US50 billion.) The project has compiled a list of problems that are real, urgent and solvable. Here are some of them, ranked by a panel of top economists, including four Nobel laureates. When reading them, bear in mind that if the world were to adhere to the Kyoto Protocol and thereby postpone warming by just five years to 2100, the cost would be $US180 billion annually.

According to Lomborg's evidence to the Congressional inquiry "preventing HIV/AIDS turns out to be the very best investment humanity can make . For $US27 billion, we can save 28 million lives over the coming years." Investing $US12 billion would probably halve the number of people dying from malnutrition, currently almost 2.4 million a year; $US13 billion would reduce deaths from malaria, now a million a year, by the same proportion. UNICEF estimates that just $US70-80 billion a year could give all Third World inhabitants access to the basics such as health, education, water and sanitation.

The need to believe in an apocalypse is a base craving unfortunately rooted in the human psyche. We need to resist it with another human attribute: the power of reason.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Rudd 'has a bit to learn about China'

OPPOSITION Leader Kevin Rudd might be fluent in Mandarin but he still has a bit to learn about Chinese history, said Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Mr Turnbull was commenting on the Labor leader's planned trip to China at the head of a team of shadow ministers, scientists and businessmen to ask Beijing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Announcing the trip at the weekend, Mr Rudd referred to former Chinese leader Chairman Mao's policy of 'letting one hundred flowers bloom'. But Mr Turnbull said Mr Rudd's comments showed he lacked understanding of important aspects of Chinese history. "That (remark) would've struck a chill into the heart of everybody who actually knew about Chinese history," Mr Turnbull told ABC radio today. "In 1956 when Chairman Mao said to the intellectuals of China 'let one hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend', he encouraged intellectuals to come out and criticise the government and then when he found out who they all were ... he purged more than a million of them."

Mr Turnbull said it would be quite devastating if that were Mr Rudd's intention. "If that's the kind of government Kevin Rudd's promising - and I'm sure it's not, I suspect he doesn't know as much about Chinese history as he pretends - then we've got a lot to worry about," he said.


Stern words, but short shrift for the economics of climate change

By Terry McCrann

BRITISH economist Sir Nicholas Stern made a flying visit to Australia last week. Via, apparently, South Africa, India and Indonesia. So much for carbon-neutral burning the oil at midnight, and all the other hours through the day.

Sir Nicholas is the putative author of the 700-page The Stern Review, the Economics of Climate Change, which purports to establish the world will be better off pre-emptively reducing carbon-based greenhouse gas emissions, than living with them. That's, to stress, establish supposedly in entirely unemotional analytical terms. Its bottom line: cutting emissions will cost 1 per cent of global GDP. It will "save" somewhere between 5 and 20 per cent of global GDP.

Yet, in watching Sir Nicholas at the National Press Club and reading the reports of his press interviews, he had almost nothing to say about the economics of climate change. Instead it was almost all about the science. What increased concentrations of greenhouse gases would purportedly do to temperatures, to weather, and so on. Intriguingly, at one point, musing that it almost always involved water.

One of two ways he came closest to talking about his own speciality, the only reason he is "in the discussion" at all, was to prophesy massive population shifts. In other words, it was all boilerplate preaching from another High Priest in the First Church of Climate Apocalypse. Repent of your emissions and you will be saved.

Now this is not another bleat from a so-called "climate sceptic". But a critique of Stern specifically in his/its own (purported) terms. What we saw was that Stern in person was as empty of any serious economic analysis of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change as his review was in 700 pages. Indeed, for the purpose of the discussion, assume that everything predicted about temperatures and climate was likely to prove correct. One can't say accurate because the ranges of possible outcomes are so wide as to be almost analytically useless.

What would you then expect from an economist? To take that foundation and first, analyse the costs and benefits of the outcomes. With appropriate ranges to reflect the range of outcome uncertainties. To take one example: global temperature up, say, 2 degrees. What are the costs and, yes, the benefits of that? It might be easier to understand that there really are benefits from a warmer world if you lived in Moscow than in Manila. But there are, and they need to be netted out against the costs.

Let us assume the alarmists are right and the costs far outweigh the benefits; the net costs will still be something less. Critically, these should only be the economic costs. It's not for Stern the economist to "value" that a hotter Manila or a stormier Brisbane would be "unpleasant". His only analytical concern should be any economic consequences, including measurable externalities. To incorporate anything else is to pollute, and so fundamentally compromise, the economic analysis. Indeed, it builds in a self-reinforcing feedback bias. Hotter is economically bad. The world is getting hotter. So does that have good or bad economic consequences? Why, bad.

Then an economist, working off the net costs (or benefits), would analyse the net, to stress again, economic costs of cutting emissions. And compare that net cost with the first net cost. That would "tell" you whether the cost of cutting emissions was worth the cost of avoiding their consequences.

Two other points need to be made. You have to incorporate the ranges in the analysis; and weight them relative to likelihood, and to risk. And you also have to adjust for different time periods. The costs of cutting emissions come now and in the near future; the costs of the consequences come later, perhaps much later. Hence the need to discount those future costs of climate change back to today, to measure directly against the costs of cutting emissions.

Now the economist has to turn a blind eye to those broader issues. Otherwise you won't get robust information on which to base either subjective or objective decisions. Objective: maybe it is economically better to live with a 2 per cent hotter world, and deal with the consequences. Because net-net we would be better off. But then it would be perfectly appropriate to make the subjective judgment: no, 2 per cent is non-negotiable. Yes, we will take a second-best economic outcome. But we will do so with our eyes open and fully understanding what we are doing.

This is critically important in another way. Properly informed, you might decide to live with a half-way outcome. To opt for, say, 1 per cent in temperature and less damage to the global economy.

Now the trade-off highlighted at the start would suggest the Stern Review does this, and the bottom line is so overwhelmingly favourable to action against emissions that it must cover the range of uncertainties. One per cent versus 20 per cent could live with a huge adjustment. It does no such thing. It is fundamentally compromised because the analysis builds in the climate theology. But in any event the analysis itself is seriously flawed. As a distinguished panel of economists has demonstrated in a punishing shredding of the economics of the review.

The panel included the former chief economist at the OECD, David Henderson, our former chief statistician, Ian Castles, and the biographer of Keynes and distinguished economist in his own right, Robert Skidelsky. Their withering analysis, published in World Economics, concluded Stern was deeply flawed. "It does not provide a basis for informed and responsible policies." The single most damming flaw was Stern's choice of a discount rate to "value" those future climate benefits in present terms. Just 2.1 per cent. A statement essentially of climate hysteria. Even more damming, it was not actually disclosed in the review. A statement essentially of guilt.

Stern in person rather embarrassingly confirmed the review's flaws - and his own theological hysteria - with his second venture towards economics in his Press Club appearance. Explaining why the developed world had to take most of the carbon cuts - by between 60 and 90 per cent - and so the reduction in economic growth, he said inter alia, that the developing world like China and India had to be allowed to "catch up". To have their economic growth.

In very simple terms, were the developed world to seriously cut carbon and growth, the developing world would not have its growth. China is only growing at 10 per cent-plus because of its access to the US and other developed country markets. You would expect a former World Bank economist to know that access to our growing markets is the absolute foundation of 4 billion people moving out of poverty, disease and early death. Cutting carbon emissions might make an "apocalyptic churchgoer" like Stern feel purer. It will have a much more salutary impact on the people of those countries he has recently been flying over.


Decayed Australian mathematics teaching

It's been figured out: our numeracy is not what it should be, writes Kevin Donnelly

In March 2004, 26 Australian academics wrote an open letter to then federal education minister Brendan Nelson about the parlous state of primary school literacy teaching as a result of Australia's adoption of outcomes-based education fads. Among the concepts was whole language, whereby students are made to look and guess instead of learning the relationship between letters and sounds. The rest, they say, is history.

Nelson set up a national inquiry into literacy. The subsequent report concluded that state and territory curriculum documents, teacher training and professional development had been captured by the whole-language approach and a greater emphasis on teaching the traditional phonics and phonemic awareness was necessary.

Not to be outdone, Australia's mathematicians have organised an open letter to the Prime Minister, to be delivered next week. It has been signed by more than 440 local and international academics concerned about the parlous state of mathematical sciences in Australia. Signatories include Terry Tao, the recent winner of the internationally acclaimed Fields Medal; John Ball, president of the International Mathematical Union; and many of Australia's most qualified mathematicians and statisticians.

The open letter cites the fact that many universities are closing or reducing departments of mathematical sciences, that the shortage of graduates is so acute that "it inhibits the work of business and industry", and that the quality and rigour of mathematics teaching in schools and universities have been severely undermined.

The letter argues that there has been little, if any, action at the commonwealth [Federal] level - notwithstanding the release three months ago of Mathematics and Statistics: Critical Skills for Australia's Future, a report summarising the findings of the national strategic review of mathematical sciences - and that the time for action has long since passed.

In short, the report of the national inquiry concludes that the supply of trained mathematicians and statisticians is inadequate and decreasing, that Australian academics are becoming increasingly isolated and under-resourced, that not enough Year 12 students undertake more difficult courses (participation in higher-order mathematics fell from 41 per cent in 1995 to 34 per cent in 2004), and that high school mathematics is taught by teachers with inadequate mathematical training.

The report does not only concentrate on the negatives: it also offers a number of recommendations for improving the situation. They range from strengthening Australia's research base to guaranteeing funding for organisations such as the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute and the International Centre of Excellence for Education in Mathematics (funded at present by the Department of Education, Science and Training) and rebuilding mathematical science departments.

Given the concerns aired in these pages over the past two years about the quality and rigour of Australia's school curriculum and doubts about teacher effectiveness, it's hardly surprising that the report on mathematics and statistics also highlights the need to strengthen secondary school mathematics courses and to ensure teachers have a thorough grounding in the discipline.

Reading between the lines - and as noted in a submission to the inquiry from Tony Guttmann of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Mathematics and Statistics of Complex Systems - it is obvious, in the same way that subjects such as history and English have been dumbed down, school mathematics has also suffered.

Guttmann argues that the type of feel-good approach to education associated with Australia's adoption of outcomes-based education, where the word "failure" is banned and promoting self-esteem is considered paramount, has led to students being unable, or unwilling, to master so-called hard subjects. Guttmann says: "An attitude is being bred in schools that it does not matter whether a student succeeds in mastering a concept, so long as an effort is made and that effort is rewarded. The concept of failure is considered to be potentially damaging to the self-esteem of students, and so must be avoided. This attitude is particularly problematic for subjects in which a substantial body of knowledge is assumed and built upon."

In order to strengthen mathematics teaching, the report suggests teacher training must be improved. Although it does not go as far as to argue that all teachers should complete an undergraduate degree in their specialist discipline, followed by a diploma of education, thus ensuring that graduates have a firm foundation in their subject, the report suggests that mathematical science departments should have a greater involvement in teacher preparation.

Research shows that one of the key determinants of successful learning is a teacher's mastery of a subject. There is increasing concern that the type of general bachelor of education degree designed and taught by schools of education fails to provide such grounding. As Guttmann points out: "The training of teachers can be improved by making sure that mathematics teachers have a mathematics degree, followed by a diploma of education or equivalent. Their mathematical education should not be provided by education faculties, but by discipline experts."

In an election year, it is obvious the two main political parties see education as a significant issue and that Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith have successfully repositioned the ALP by staking the territory once the preserve of the conservatives. It is also obvious that Australia's continued high standard of living and international competitiveness depend on the quality, rigour and effectiveness of our education system, especially in the areas of mathematics and related fields such as engineering, science and physics. In the same way that Nelson, when education minister, acted quickly to address falling standards in literacy and concerns about the quality of teacher training, one hopes that the federal Government will also move quickly to address concerns about mathematics.


"Clean coal" is the middle way in today's environmental politics

CONTRARY to the popular line being pushed by the usual suspects, it is not John Howard who has been left behind in the climate change debate. Rather, it is the anti-development fringe dwellers such as Greens leader Bob Brown and Australian of the Year Tim Flannery. Their demand for a precipitous end to coalmining sets these neo-Arcadians outside the consensus building among serious participants to the debate that clean-coal technology offers a practical, medium-term solution to greenhouse gas emissions that will not erode our quality of life. This point was highlighted by visiting British climate change economist Nicholas Stern, who said Australia had a key role to play in investigating clean-coal technology. It is also the core finding of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology report released earlier this month that says demand for coal will increase under any foreseeable scenario. Support for clean-coal research is also an issue on which the federal Government and Opposition find themselves in broad agreement, despite political differences over whether setting a carbon emission target will speed technological development or simply harm the economy.

Despite the inescapable fact that coal is here to stay for the next half century at least, it is unlikely to dominate today's Labor-sponsored talkfest on climate change, or feature heavily on the minds of those who choose to turn the lights off for one hour tonight in a symbolic gesture that draws further attention to a worrying, if not fully understood, problem. There is great heart to be taken, however, from the confidence that leaders in the climate change debate such as Sir Nicholas have about the prospects of solving the problems that burning coal presents for the environment. The MIT report into the future of coal clearly outlines the size of the problem. It says fossil fuel sources today account for 80 per cent of world energy demand, with coal representing 25 per cent, gas 21 per cent, petroleum 34 per cent and nuclear power 6.5 per cent. Only 0.4 per cent is met by renewable sources of energy such as geothermal, solar and wind.

The MIT report assumes that the risks of global warming are real and says the US and other governments should and will take action to restrict emissions. But it nonetheless believes that coal use will increase because coal is cheap and abundant and geographically widespread so that, unlike oil, supplies are secure from political upheaval in the Middle East. MIT concludes that carbon capture and sequestration are the critical enabling technology for reducing CO2 emissions while also allowing coal to meet the world's pressing energy needs. It says the most urgent objective of the climate change response should be the successful large-scale demonstration of the technological, economic, and environmental performance of carbon capture and storage.

During his lightning visit to Australia this week, Sir Nicholas rejected the suggestions by Lateline host Tony Jones that clean-coal technology was unproven or that Australia should concentrate its research efforts on alternative technologies such as solar. He said it was beyond doubt that China and India would continue to use a lot of coal for the next 30 to 40 years, and Australia was likely to be one of the world leaders in solving the riddle of developing technologies to burn coal efficiently and capture and store the carbon emissions. Contrary to the view of clean-coal sceptics, Sir Nicholas said the technology was progressing, with working examples in Canada, Algeria and Norway. The challenge now was to demonstrate that the technologies could be deployed on a commercial scale. Sir Nicholas said engineers working on the technology were optimistic that, if proven, it could be put in place fairly quickly.

Such confidence is heartening and gives reassurance that, rather than being an international pariah on climate change, Australia is, in fact, at the forefront of progress towards a realistic solution to climate change. While Australia is criticised for having not signed the Kyoto agreement, it is considered to be in a key position through the AP6 - the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate - to engage the world's biggest carbon emitter, the US, and the world's biggest emerging carbon emitter, China. Australia's faith in clean-coal research is being increasingly vindicated. It ultimately represents a continuation of the way in which developed economies have improved the environmental performance of coal as they have harnessed its economic potential. Such progress supports The Weekend Australian's core belief in science as the pathway to progress.

While ideally placed to pioneer new coal technology, there is no reason why Australia might not also play a role in other areas of research including solar, wind and geothermal power. But there is no reason to assume that Australia must be involved in or invent every new technology. Governments should not attempt to pick winners but should apply public funds according to what has the best chance of success in making a significant contribution to solving the problem. The Weekend Australian supports the Government's commitment to practical, balanced action that will achieve results. This includes the Government's global initiative on stopping illegal logging of forests in Southeast Asia, which has the potential to deliver both climate-change and broader environmental benefits. The Government estimates the potential atmospheric carbon benefits from stopping illegal logging to be 10 times those of the Kyoto agreement.

There is also merit in Kevin Rudd's attempts this weekend to bring together interest groups, including business, to explore solutions. The Opposition Leader faces a daunting challenge in attempting to find answers that will satisfy participants with wildly differing expectations on what is an emotionally charged issue. The Weekend Australian is heartened that among those at the forefront of seeking a solution to global warming there is a growing confidence that tackling the problem at its source, the point of power generation from coal, is likely to be met.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Labor party 'fanatical about climate change'

Labor is treating climate change as a near religious issue while the government is working to reduce its effects by practical measures, Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull says. "We are about substance, we're about real achievement, practical achievement, things that work," Mr Turnbull told Network Ten today.

Conversely, Labor is looking at climate change in a religious sense, he said. "For Labor it's a religious issue," Mr Turnbull said. "Labor is verging on becoming fanatical about this issue in the sense that they do not care how poor we have to become as long as we become pure. "I think religion is a very poor guide to public policy."

Mr Turnbull said ratifying the Kyoto protocol has become a symbolic issue for Labor, even though it is not a practical solution to climate change. "Kyoto is a failed mechanism," he said. "It's not just failed because most of the world's biggest emitters are not part of it, it's not just failed because it would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions growth by one per cent. "It's also failed because it doesn't address the second biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions which is global deforestation."

Australia's richest politician also denied he has ambitions to take over from John Howard as prime minister. Asked whether he would succeed Mr Howard in the top job, Mr Turnbull said he had no plans of that nature. "I wouldn't even begin to think about that or speculate about that - I'll leave that to you guys," he told Network Ten.

Mr Turnbull's comments came as a new opinion poll shows the federal Labor Party holds a comfortable 14 point lead over the coalition on a two-party preferred basis. The poll of 504 voters, by Queensland's Sunday Mail newspaper, found support for Labor to be at 57 per cent compared to the coalition's 43 per cent. The result comes amid a popularity surge for Labor leader Kevin Rudd, the controversial resignation of ageing minister and Queensland senator Santo Santoro over a shares scandal and a series of clashes within the state Liberal party....


Climate doomsayers all at sea

Around 18,000 years ago, what is now Sydney Harbour was about 15km inshore of the coastline, and the sea level was at its lowest point, about 120m below the present sea level. The site of the Opera House, on Bennelong Point, was almost midway between the beach and Homebush, and South Head was midway between the Opera House and the coast. According to the Australian Museum, the sea reached its present level about 6000 years ago.

So, the sea level rose one metre every 100 years from its low point to the current level during that period. Not evenly, on a couple of occasions the sea rose several metres in very short periods - over a few decades. At other times, things stalled. But the worst-case scenario posed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which now has the worry warts twisting their knickers so anxiously, has sea level rising about 0.3m per 100 years, about a third of the rise known to have occurred in the relatively recent past. And they blame it all on Man!

There is an old joke about the smartest invention in the world, and one fellow says he believes it is the thermos flask because in winter it keeps hot food hot and in summer it keeps cold drinks cold. "Now, how does it know that?" he asks. Well, how do the experts know that Man is responsible for the current changes in climate?

Answer: they don't. They're guessing, and they are dressing up their guesses with computer modelling which is so unreliable that it can't even predict with any great success what the weather will be next year.

It's a jolly good thing there were no computer modellers around to scare the pants off the Sydney locals (had they been wearing pants) 16,000 years ago, and warn them to stop cooking their fish and goannas over carbon-emitting campfires, to throw away their fire sticks and eat their possum raw and like it. As for the pollution caused by the so-called science of fire-stick farming, forget it! Those bushfires every year must have sent the CO2 levels rocketing.

Or wasn't global warming responsible for the rising sea levels? If it wasn't, what was? And why were the sea levels sinking the beachside suburbs of the period three times faster than anything we face today ? It is easy to be afraid listening to Al Gore, Nicholas Stern and Tim Flannery, but it is difficult not to be concerned once their theories are questioned. The IPCC has long predicted that climate change was going to bring about more violent weather events than we have experienced, but that ignores the record in both hemispheres.

In our neighbourhood, however, the IPCC is quite specific. It says Australia will be hit by more frequent and intense heatwaves, bushfires, floods, drought and landslides as global warming sends temperatures soaring this century. Oh yeah? Temperatures in the southern hemisphere haven't altered in 25 years and, according to the records, the global temperature has been stationary since 1998.

What the scaremongers don't explain is that the temperature is measured on the Earth's surface, by balloons rising through the atmosphere and from satellites which look at particular molecular structures as they circle the globe. The purest of these is the satellite measurement because it is least affected by incidental events, but all of the above show that southern hemisphere temperatures haven't altered significantly over the past 25 years, despite the computer modelling which shows that the less polluted hemisphere should have become warmer than the northern hemisphere, which is shielded by particulate matter.

In fact, the compilers of the most recent IPCC report had to slash estimates of global temperature rises by nearly one third. Sane scientists, who are not chasing the climate-change dollar, joke that if this trend continues, the IPCC will be predicting another ice age within 10 years. Whoops! There were scientists pandering to the market for gloom and doom 30 years ago who were predicting a coming ice age. Lesson: hang on to that heavy overcoat.

The Great Barrier Reef is also under threat, and even though the greatest damage done in recent times was caused by an inundation of fresh water from a cloud burst, this dire warning ignores the reality that corals have lived in warmer seas than we now have, and overlooks the fact that they adjust. OK, the fossil coral outcrops metres above sea level didn't make the cut but, then again, the Great Barrier Reef was once a plain with no coral at all.

Those running around with their petticoats pulled firmly over their heads don't want to know that the Romans grew wine grapes in Britain, that Greenland got its name because it used to be warm enough for farmers, or that the Earth's climate has always been changeable. But they claim to have science on their side. Then so, too, did all those who thought Y2K - the Millennium Bug - was going to wipe out civilisation as we know it. There is a debate to be had, but it serves no one if those promoting fear are resorting to pseudo-science and questionable modelling to make their case.


Fatal ambulance delay in Victoria

A young Australian soldier is heartbroken following the death of his fiancee and unborn baby, after a wait of more than 20 minutes for an ambulance. Trooper Sean Graham, who has seen active service for his country overseas, says his cherished partner and baby might still be alive if paramedics reached them more quickly. Mikaela Meagher, 22, died in Austin Hospital on March 21 after losing consciousness two days earlier during an epileptic seizure in the bath at her sister's home in the central Victorian town of Maryborough.

Mikaela was pregnant with Cohen Thomas Graham, who was due to have been born on the day of her seizure. Mr Graham, 23, told how he and Mikaela were looking after her sister's three children on the evening of March 19 when the double tragedy unfolded. "Mikaela's nephew went into the bathroom to tell her to hurry up because he wanted to play with his frisbee, then ran out saying she was playing under the water," Mr Graham said. He found Mikaela unconscious, began performing CPR and phoned the emergency services.

"They kept saying 'It's not going to be long, not long now'," he said. It was at least 20 minutes between the call being made and the first paramedics arriving, he said. According to Mr Graham, paramedics had to leave a man who had suffered a heart attack with a doctor in Dunolly and travelled the 22km distance to the Maryborough emergency at 160km/h.

Paramedics said Maryborough and the surrounding towns had one vehicle on duty. Sources said the team, when called to the Dunolly job, warned the Rural Ambulance Victoria control centre in Ballarat to find cover in case of another emergency, but that no action was taken. "If the paramedics had been able to get there within five minutes they were confident the outcome could have been different," one ambulance officer said. Cohen was pronounced dead when Mikaela reached Maryborough Hospital.

Mikaela, whose heart had been revived, was flown to the Austin, but with minuscule activity in her brain, her life-support machine was switched off on March 21. Many of her organs were donated to help save others.

Mr Graham has called for an investigation into resourcing and management procedures relating to the tragedy and a wider probe of the service. "If they had been there in just a few minutes I believe it might have been different," he said. "The paramedics were fantastic, but the ambulance service needs more resources. "I cannot bring Mikaela and Cohen back, but I don't want anything like this to happen to anyone else," Mr Graham said.

The RAV was restructured this year after being plagued by claims of inadequate resourcing, mismanagement, bullying, sexual harassment and cronyism. Though the target for metropolitan ambulances is to attend within nine minutes for most cases, there is no target response time for rural ambulances.


Damn Cars and all hail Solar Power

Post lifted from Gust of Hot Air

Kevin Rudd, leader of the opposition in Australia has promised to spend $50 million on household solar panels in an attempt to stem global warming.

"We believe that renewable energy is a key part of Australia's future response to the challenge of climate change," Mr Rudd told reporters.

"We believe that solar power is a key part of Australia's future response to climate change.

"It also helps families to do their bit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

He says that the money would be equivalent to taking 4000 cars of the road. It could also be the equivalent to buying 4000 second hand cars and passing them free of charge to the public, but that's another matter.

Even though, the rebate is only for 25%, so I guess in this case, the government are only taking 1000 cars off the road.

But anyway, we've kind of heard these do good do nothing stories before. Banning ordinary light globes and banning screen savers we found do absolutely nothing, but make people feel good - about doing nothing. Aint life easy?

So lets do the sums. Considering that a car generates around 3.5 tonnes of deadly greenhouse gas a year, 1000 cars is equivalent to saving 3500 tonnes per year. Awesome. Good work.

Now lets assume that 100% of recent warming is caused by the deadly gas (extremely unlikely), and given that Australia's greenhouse gas output is 1.5% of the worlds, and that we have seen an increase in 0.6 degrees in the last century we can work out how much we will save.

In fact considering that Australia produces 356,342,000 tonnes a year, we will save a staggering 1/100,000th of our greenhouse gas.

This means that the solar panel scheme of opposition leader Kevin Rudd will cool the world by:

0.0000000009 degrees each year.

Thank goodness the heater works in my car.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Parents told kids' homosexual talk should start at three

PARENTS should teach their children about gay relationships from the age of three or four, an expert says. But one family group says any attempt to normalise homosexuality is little more than a recruitment drive. Pop idol Anthony Callea, 24, this week announced he was gay, prompting a flood of support - and some shock - from fans.

Deakin University health and education lecturer Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli said children as young as 13 were coming out. The author of When Our Children Come Out: How to support gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered young people, said parents should tell their children there was nothing wrong with same-sex relationships. That way, if they were gay, children would feel comfortable coming out to friends and family. She said that by contrast, families in which parents condemned homosexuality often struggled to cope.

Dr Pallotta-Chiarolli advises parents to raise the issue when children are three or four. She did not advocate raising the sexual aspect, just a simple explanation of male-male and female-female relationships.

Family Council of Victoria secretary Bill Muehlenberg said young children didn't need to know about homosexuality. He said just as you wouldn't tell children an adult was a heroin addict, you wouldn't tell them someone was gay. Mr Muehlenberg said attempts to educate children about homosexuality were little more than a recruitment drive.

Family First leader Senator Steve Fielding said it was inappropriate for parents to discuss such issues with three or four-year-olds. Focus on the Family CEO Andrew Boutros said children aged three to four were too young to hear about homosexuality. "We have concerns about whether a child aged three or four would be able to understand the concept of a gay relationship, let alone the moral issues associated," he said.

Melbourne-raised Nigel Giles, 41, who came out when he was about 20, agrees with Dr Pallotta-Chiarolli. Homosexuality wasn't discussed when he was a child, but his family was supportive. "If I'd grown up in a society where homosexuality wasn't demonised and marginalised, I wouldn't have had any problems. It's as simple as that," Mr Giles said.


More vaccination needed?

Waning immunity after childhood vaccinations has prompted concerns we may need to better protect adults from disease

When you think chickenpox, do you imagine spotty but otherwise happy kids quarantined at home and amused with colouring books and hot drinks? If so, you may be surprised to learn that pneumonia, inflammation of the heart muscle and swelling of the brain (encephalitis) are all potential complications of this highly contagious disease, which causes 1500 hospitalisations and seven deaths in Australia each year.

Although it's a mostly mild illness in children, chickenpox - caused by the varicella zoster virus, one of the herpes family - can be nasty in adults, particularly the elderly, pregnant women, and other people with compromised immune systems. Since November 2005 a federal Government funded vaccine for varicella has been available free to all children aged 18 months (and at 10-13 years for non-immune children who haven't already been immunised). The problem is, no one is quite sure how long this protection lasts - estimates range from 10 to 20 years, or longer. It's a question that has significant implications as people age and become more susceptible to disease.

An editorial in the respected New England Journal of Medicine (2005;352(22):2344-6) suggested that mass childhood vaccination against chickenpox might ironically be leaving some people more vulnerable to the adult disease, which it said was "far more serious than childhood varicella usually is". And experts are also raising questions about waning post-vaccine immunity to other diseases. Not all vaccines offer lifelong protection and many of the newer ones have just not been around long enough for us to know how effective they are long-term. We know for example that immunity following a vaccination for pertussis - whooping cough - usually lasts only around five to 10 years.

Recently-released draft Australian immunisation guidelines are already suggesting that, contrary to current practice, children might need a second dose of chickenpox vaccine before 13 years of age, and receive their first dose six months earlier, to give them earlier and more sustained protection. "Waning immunity is often under-recognised," says Peter Eizenberg, a Melbourne GP who sits on several national immunisation committees. "It is an important issue in the community, particularly among the elderly, but not just the elderly. People get vaccinated and they forget that only a few of the vaccines give long-term immunity."

The NEJM recently revisited the topic, suggesting again that varicella vaccination could lead to a shift in the disease burden to older people (2007;356:1121-9). "Waning of immunity is of particular public health interest because it may result in increased susceptibility later in life, when the risk of severe complications may be greater than in childhood," the authors say.

Professor Lyn Gilbert, director of the Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at Westmead Hospital's Institute of Clinical Pathology and Medical Research, says the combination of mass childhood vaccination and waning immunity might see an increase in cases of shingles - a painful condition caused by the re-activation of the varicella zoster virus, which continues to lurk in nerve cells after a childhood infection. Shingles has its own set of complications. It can sometimes cause permanent, painful nerve damage and can actually transmit the chickenpox virus itself to people who aren't immune. "Shingles . . . is potentially a time bomb waiting to happen," Gilbert says.

The theory is that because mass childhood vaccination greatly reduces the amount of "wild" virus circulating in the community, it means that people's immunity to varicella is no longer being constantly "topped up" by re-exposure to it. "There is a very plausible model that suggests that if you reduce the incidence of infection in children through mass vaccination and older people are not exposed to wild virus, they are likely to have reactivations," Gilbert says. For the elderly, there may be hope of protection with a new shingles vaccine manufactured by drug giant Merck. Zostavax was licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration last year for use in people over 60. It's not yet available in Australia, but there are hopes that it soon will be.

Director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance professor Peter McIntyre says the vaccine would initially be used in the over-60s, but may in future be used for younger patients. Gilbert says in the long term, those vaccinated for varicella in childhood will probably require boosters as they age. But she says uncertainties over whether boosters are needed or not tend to muddy the waters on the true costs of a government funding of vaccines.

And funding of new vaccines doesn't come cheap. In the last financial year, the federal Government spent about $250 million on vaccines. Cabinet this week agreed to spend $124.4 million over five years to immunise babies against rotavirus, which hospitalises 10,000 children a year. Estimates are that this could save the health system some $30 million annually by preventing illnesses.

One disease where waning immunity issues pose a significant challenge is the highly infectious whooping cough (or pertussis), which is on the rise worldwide. It is less dangerous to adults than it is to young babies, for whom it can cause brain damage and even prove fatal. Adults can develop hernias and rib fractures from the coughing, but a particular problem in adults is that it might not be recognised as pertussis at all - missing an opportunity to limit transmission. Most babies are immunised against pertussis, but protection is not achieved until after the third dose at six months of age, so waning immunity to the vaccine and resulting infection in adults is putting these children at risk. "Pertussis is a number one problem," Eizenberg says. "It is in epidemic proportions . . . we have around 10,000 cases a year notified to the department of health and that probably under-represents the true numbers by 3-4 times because mild cases can be hard to diagnose but remain very infectious."

There's still uncertainty over how many pertussis boosters are needed, because the adult booster, called Boostrix, is only relatively new. While the federal Government funds Boostrix for 15 to 17-year-olds, there is no public funding for pertussis vaccination of older adults. Eizenberg would like to see national, publicly-funded routine immunisation with the combined diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis vaccine for all eligible 50-year-olds. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), which advises the federal government, is looking at whether there is a case to recommend a routine pertussis booster in middle age, a decision that would be a world first. "The unknown question is, how long will the vaccine last?" says ATAGI chairman professor Terry Nolan. "There is a possibility that progressive boosting will be needed to protect throughout life."

Another problem is measles, which in the 24 years from 1976 to 2000 caused nearly 100 deaths in Australia. While this figure is small, experts are still concerned. Small outbreaks continue to occur around the country and immunisation levels aren't as high as they could be, particularly in young adults who may not have been fully vaccinated in childhood. As for how long vaccine protection lasts, it has been thought that immunity was long term. But some experts believe that waning vaccine-induced immunity could become an issue. Introduced measles is a particular threat - from Australians who travel overseas."A classic situation is an unimmunised young Australian male, goes to Bali, picks it up there and comes back and infects all his mates," Gilbert says.

Experts say funding issues do make a difference to vaccine uptake and the battle to maintain levels of disease protection. "I think there is a culture amongst a lot of people that if a vaccine is not 'free' then it can't be important," Eizenberg says. This sort of attitude can make it hard for GPs to convince people who don't feel sick that they need a booster jab. McIntyre says although diphtheria/tetanus or diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis is recommended at age 50 (but not publicly funded), "the chances are most people don't do it". "We think most people don't get around to it and doctors forget to remind people and it's not free." Eizenberg says a national adult immunisation register could keep track of all vaccinations and trigger reminders.

It seems the Federal Government agrees in principle. In the last budget it allocated $1.2 million to explore redeveloping the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register into a whole-of-life register that included adult immunisation. Health Minister Tony Abbott is due to see a report on the concept some time this year. According to Gilbert, adult immunisation is becoming much more of an issue. "Increasingly, people are beginning to recognise better the burden of illness in older peo ple." But difficulties in reaching younger adults and unanswered questions about waning immunity means the cost-effectiveness of paying for immunisation programs from the public purse might be doubtful. It seems a big question for the future is, to whom should we give boosters, and can we afford it?


Big NSW hospital in trouble

THE Royal North Shore Hospital is lurching towards another crisis, with a senior doctor resigning over serious problems with trauma surgery as the troubled hospital struggles to rein in its budget and maintain services. His resignation comes as the hospital's ability to manage elective surgery was again called into question by revelations yesterday that a woman booked to have fibroids removed had her operation cancelled twice on the day of surgery.

Over the past 10 years the surgeon, who does not want to be named, has written letter after letter, detailing a litany of complaints and cover-ups at the hospital, which he says has failed to properly investigate any of the incidents. "The system allows multiple problems to occur," his resignation letter says. "There is no one person who takes ownership of the problem and has the ability to affect any change for the good of those individual patients who are being harmed by the system." Obsessed by process at the expense of health care, the hospital gave medical and surgical units "untenable service goals with limited resources", he said. "We are exposed to a rotating door of middle managers who are servants to a paperwork process that hides the problem."

The final straw came when a patient arrived at the emergency department with a severe fracture and other complications but was refused access to theatre - and only received surgery five days later.

The resignation comes just two months after the Herald revealed that the hospital was facing another significant budget overrun, with an audit finding that $30 million of essential equipment needed to be bought. "North Shore is over-budget," admitted Phillipa Blakey, the director of clinical operations of Northern Sydney Central Coast Health. "It is not as over-budget as it has been in the past . and in terms of the area, we will break even at the financial year." She pointed to a fall in the rate of cancellations on the day of surgery from 18 per cent last July to 5 per cent last month, as well as a reduction in the number of people waiting longer than 12 months for surgery from 61 to seven in the past year. "It is a very busy hospital and it is getting busier by the day . And despite that the performance has improved a lot."

The chairman of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in NSW, Phil Truskett, said: "It is no different throughout metropolitan hospitals in NSW and if you want to get into rural and remote NSW it is much worse." A lack of infrastructure and funding was hampering access to operating theatres for acute cases, affecting the patients involved and those waiting for elective surgery, Dr Truskett said. "Acute surgery is done in the middle of the night when it should not be done - we need an appropriate process and method of managing acute care during the day."

The president of the Australian Medical Association in NSW, Andrew Keegan, said patient care was suffering because the system was being run to make the numbers look better. "If someone senior doesn't take responsibility for that patient then the quality of care is at risk," he said.


The light way out

We want to feel we are doing something about global warming, but mere symbolism is alive and well

ABOUT dinnertime tonight, thousands of households have promised to turn off their electric lights for an hour as a symbol of their personal commitment to reduce the risk of climate change. Earth Hour is the brainchild of environment group WWF-Australia, which has joined forces with the Fairfax newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald -- but apparently not The Age in Melbourne -- for the latest in a series of feel-good campaigns pitched at engaging middle Australia on the hot issue in the environment debate. It's like a telethon where you don't have to donate money: all Sydneysiders are being asked to do is turn off their lights between 7.30pm and 8.30pm to "demonstrate how simple actions can make a world of difference if everyone takes part". The Australian Conservation Foundation has teamed with Channel7 for Lights Off Australia, which asks Australians on the first Wednesday of each month to turn off lights overnight that aren't needed.

Sydney's Earth Hour tonight is, by design, an act of mass symbolism. Separating genuine participants from those going out to dinner or watching the Sydney Swans, Waratahs or red-hot Rabbitohs may be more problematic. The emissions reductions from even half of Sydney going without lights for an hour will be almost indiscernible. WWF-Australia chief executive Greg Bourne has been campaigning for months to sell the event, and says its purpose is to sustain pressure on governments rather than deliver big cuts in emissions. If the idea is to galvanise public support, Earth Hour is already too late.

Yesterday the Climate Institute issued the latest in a series of reports on the attitude of Australians to climate change policy. Its survey of 1000 people last weekend claims 80per cent support for a government plan to cut greenhouse pollution with enforceable targets for 2020 and 2050. The report, which neatly sidesteps issues related to the cost of such reforms, also says Australians understand climate change is already happening and are particularly concerned about water resources and the impact of water restrictions.

This follows the release of a global survey by the Lowy Institute this month, revealing widespread agreement among communities across the world that climate change is a pressing problem. Twelve countries, including Australia, were asked whether steps should be taken to address climate change, and all but one of them favoured action. Australia reported the largest majority in favour of measures to combat global warming (92 per cent). "But awareness is not action," Bourne says. "Awareness and action is what really matters. The Government has been aware of these issues for a long time, and ... have taken very little action, even though their rhetoric says they have taken a lot."

Bourne defends the highly symbolic campaign, rejecting the idea that it risks trivialising the scale and complexity of the multi-trillion-dollar global economic and technological challenge by simply encouraging people to switch off their lights. "People know intuitively that changing a light bulb helps, but it doesn't do it. "They require governments to lead, they are demanding of government and business to lead," he says.

For about 1.5 billion people on the planet, every hour is Earth Hour. And that's at the heart of the problem. Astonishing economic growth in China and now India is dragging millions out of poverty, giving them electricity and water, and in the process adding incrementally to the release of greenhouse gases. China is expected to become the largest emitter of greenhouse gases by the end of the decade. Emissions from developing economies are nearly equal to those from developed economies, and bigger if you include land clearing.

Accelerated retro-fitting of the world's energy supply while simultaneously developing and installing new technologies is a mind-boggling exercise. For Australia the problem is magnified: our economy is still highly dependent on low-cost fossil fuels. The economic pain implicit in such a reform program has the late-moving Howard Government wincing as it rolls out a suite of symbolic measures to buy time until it can find a policy pathway that can neutralise the issue in the lead-up to this year's election. First it was a ban on incandescent light bulbs; this week it's a $200million, five-year plan to help developing countries slow land clearing, said to contribute about 20 per cent of greenhouse emissions.

Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists spokesman Peter Cosier says such initiatives are always welcome, but attempts by developed countries during the past two decades to curb land clearing have not been particularly effective. "This will not end the clearing of tropical forests," he tells Inquirer. "That will still continue. The question is at what rate and at what scale."

This reminds us that poverty is a key enemy of the environment. The head of the University of Melbourne's school of forests and ecosystems, Rod Keenan, says such measures can merely shift land clearing to other countries without the right institutional structures to create incentives in the developing world. "The challenge is going to be in the implementation. While many people have tried to tackle the issues around sustainable forest management and illegal logging over the past 10 to 20 years, the impact of those activities has generally been pretty small," he says.

Federal Labor leader Kevin Rudd is equally happy to stick with symbolism for now, as he tries to retain his early high ground on climate change while not spooking business by locking in expensive and unworkable solutions. This week he offered to upgrade the solar cells rebate scheme for households, one of the most symbolic, expensive and inequitable subsidies in the climate change space. Existing technology comes at a starting price of $12,000 per household less a partial rebate, with a 12 to 15-year payback in power savings, and as such household solar panels using existing photovoltaic technology remain an indulgence rather than a serious solution. But better technology may be on the way.

Federal Labor's climate change summit with the states in Canberra today will be a full house, with strong attendance from industry, science and the environmental movement. While gathering such a broad church is a political coup, keeping them in the same tent may be more problematic. It's hard to see how either Rudd or Opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett can reconcile the deep concerns of the coal and metals processing industries with the aspirations of the Wilderness Society or the Australia Institute.

Labor will be encouraged that all sections of the policy spectrum see it increasingly as a serious player and potential post-November government. But, like a meeting of the Hatfields and McCoys, keeping these fiercely opposing sides from derailing the symbolism of consensus building that Rudd is hoping to create may prove more difficult. Rudd is already working hard to open up Labor's existing three mines policy at next month's national conference. Climate change may yet become a more thorny challenge for his leadership and credibility with middle Australia, which might be happy to turn its lights off for an hour, but is unlikely to have much appetite for policies that risk keeping them off.


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